Senate votes to defund DEI, gender studies at UW


CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Senate passed an amendment to defund gender studies at the University of Wyoming, while a mirror amendment was rejected down the hall in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, introduced Amendment 13 to the Senate budget, which states “the University of Wyoming shall not expend any general funds, federal funds or other funds under its control for any gender studies courses, gender studies academic programs, gender studies co-curricular programs or gender studies extra-curricular programs.”

“This is an old friend of the Senate,” Steinmetz said on the Senate floor, referring to her past attempts to defund gender studies at UW. “I don’t believe it is the right position for the university to take sides on this issue, to put forth more of an ideology than a program.”

The senator explained the amendment would allow current gender studies courses to be completed at UW before discontinuing the program.

Steinmetz said the existence of gender studies is a concern among her constituents, who would like to see the Legislature “redirect that into more of an unbiased, classical education” at the university.

“This might be an old friend to some, but it’s no friend of mine,” said Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson. “The bedrock of a university ... is freedom of thought.”

Gierau and other senators said this amendment was an act of micromanagement by the Legislature. Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said he agreed with the Jackson senator, that the lawmakers had agreed only moments earlier not to micromanage the university’s functions.

“And now we’re debating the content of the courses and what shall or shall not be taught at the university,” Rothfuss said, who is also a lecturer at UW.

“I often find myself in the untenable position of defending something I don’t necessarily agree with,” said Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne.

Nethercott said this was a “grave concern” of hers when she voted for an expansion of an evaluation of the university’s budget — that the Legislature would step out of its lane in its determination of what defines academic freedom.

“That’s not our role. It does set a very dangerous precedent,” Nethercott said.

Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, spoke in favor of the amendment, saying this was not a matter of academic freedom, but rather economics.

“This is Wyoming. Are we going to change our mascot to the social justice warriors?” Biteman said. “Because that’s where we’re going with this university.”

Sen. Bob Ide, R-Casper, said the purpose of a university is to prepare students for career paths that will get them jobs.

“A career path in gender studies — I don’t think that really prepares you for any job after college,” Ide said.

Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, said it should be up to the university to offer or remove programs based on the number of students enrolled, not the material offered.

The amendment was adopted in the Senate by a vote of 18-13.

Amendment 14 to the Senate budget, also introduced by Steinmetz, defunded the UW Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), as well as “any diversity, equity and inclusion program, activity or function.”

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, explained his vote in favor of the amendment as a matter of principle and practicality. The senator recited Article 1, Section 2 of the Wyoming Constitution, which reads “In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal.”

“The organization is exactly opposite to that principle,” Scott said. “It’s believing that (a) person’s race is what determines their value. They’re trying to do things on that basis, and we have to get rid of them.”

Scott also recalled a university he attended, Harvard, where the president “embarrassed” the college by being unable to stand against anti-semitism on national television.

“This kind of program was the principal agent of introducing that rot,” Scott said. “We’re seeing this rot affecting the University of Wyoming.”

Senate Majority Leader Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said he agreed with Scott, saying DEI programs divided groups and excluded individuals who did not think like those group members.

“I agree with my colleague — it’s not about diversity, equity and inclusion,” Hicks said. “It’s division, exclusion and intolerance.”

Rothfuss immediately disagreed. The purpose of ODEI is to uplift diversity, equity and inclusion, not divide people, he said. For first-generation college students, the ODEI helps freshmen navigate and find their way in the university.

“It’s daunting. How do we make those students feel they’re a part of the university?” Rothfuss said. “That’s what this office works on.”

Rothfuss said it was ironic to assume this office was choosing and picking what should be taught and who should be included, when members of the Legislature were trying to determine exactly that in this amendment.

“There’s no censorship of ideas coming out of this office,” he said.

Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, who was in favor of the amendment, said he feared the direction the university was going and whether his children would have the same educational opportunities at UW that he did.

“I pose a question,” said Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep. “Is there a disconnect between the university and the rest of Wyoming?”

Sen. Troy McKeown, R-Gillette, said he worried about selection of students at universities based on their race, rather than their “meritocracy.” Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, said these types of programs seemed to target people such as herself.

“I didn’t need anybody to stand up a program to help me grow up,” said Hutchings, who is Black. “This program, the DEI, has brought more divisiveness in the Black community around the country than anything I’ve ever seen, and I’d like to see it stand down.”

The amendment was adopted on a vote of 20-11.

Further discussion of the 2025-26 biennium budget and differences between versions coming out of the two chambers will continue into next week.