2 Virginia Universities Drop DEI Graduation Requirements After Youngkin Audit

By: Georgia | Published: May 15, 2024

Two prominent Virginia universities, Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University, recently decided to cancel their plans to require diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) classes for graduation.

While the DEI courses will still be offered, they will no longer be compulsory for students to graduate this fall.

Audit by Governor Youngkin Influences Decision

The decision to revise the course requirements followed an audit initiated by Governor Glenn Youngkin. The audit specifically reviewed proposed “Racial Literacy” courses at VCU and “Just Societies” courses at George Mason. 

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Governor Glenn Youngkin speaking at a panel discussion with two women seated beside him, against a backdrop featuring the Virginia state seal and "Youngkin for Governor" banners

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The education secretary’s office criticized these requirements as “core curriculum mandates that are a thinly veiled attempt to incorporate the progressive left’s groupthink,” as reported by Inside Higher Ed.

VCU's Board Votes on Curriculum Changes

The Board of Visitors at Virginia Commonwealth University cast a 10-5 vote against integrating a “racial literacy course” into the General Education curriculum.

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Governor Glenn Youngkin delivering a speech at a Virginia Commonwealth University commencement ceremony, dressed in black academic regalia

Source: Virginia Commonwealth University/Facebook

The university explained that the board’s decision was driven by “a commitment to upholding academic freedom while empowering students with flexibility and autonomy in their educational journey,” according to a VCU statement.

VCU Leadership Encourages Course Exploration

Despite the decision to not mandate these courses for graduation, VCU BOV Rector Todd Haymore stated, “This vote is not about the content of our courses, only the graduation mandate.” 

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Governor Glenn Youngkin clapping hands at a graduation ceremony, standing with other academic officials in traditional black regalia

Source: Virginia Commonwealth University/Facebook

He encouraged students to take these courses voluntarily to enhance their understanding.

Presidential Support for Racial Literacy Courses

VCU President Michael Rao commented on the decision.

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Governor Glenn Youngkin shaking hands and congratulating a graduate during a commencement ceremony, both dressed in academic regalia

Source: VCUpresident/X

He said, “As a faculty member myself, I support our faculty’s role and expertise in developing our curriculum. I strongly support and encourage racial literacy courses and am pleased they are available for students,” highlighting his backing for these educational initiatives.

National Context for Curriculum Changes

The discussions around these curriculum changes were influenced by national protests following George Floyd’s death.

Aerial view of George Mason University campus showing various academic buildings and green spaces surrounded by autumn-colored trees

Source: GeorgeMasonU/X

The proposed courses were designed to apply a racial perspective to various subjects such as media, activism, healthcare, psychology, and education, aiming to deepen students’ understanding of these issues.

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Future Appointments to VCU Board

The VCU Board of Visitors, which is partly composed of appointees by Governor Youngkin, will see additional changes as new members are expected to join soon. 

Governor Glenn Youngkin clapping at a campaign event, surrounded by supporters wearing red and blue vests. The background features blue banners with "Secure Your Vote Virginia."

Source: GlennYoungkin/X

This could potentially influence future decisions regarding academic requirements and curriculum focus.

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Student Reaction to Governor's Policies

Following the announcement of the curriculum changes, over 100 students demonstrated their dissent by walking out of Governor Youngkin’s address at their commencement ceremony. 

Two graduates seated at a graduation ceremony, one reading the program. Both are dressed in black academic robes with yellow stoles

Source: Virginia Commonwealth University/Facebook

This was reported by the Washington Post as a protest over international causes and against the governor’s stance on racial equity in education.

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GMU Delays Decision on DEI Curriculum

George Mason University’s interim Provost Kenneth D. Walsh conveyed a non-committal stance on the DEI curriculum mandate.

Exterior view of George Mason University's modern campus buildings with American and Virginia flags flying in front. The university's name is displayed prominently in front of the buildings

Source: Wikimedia Commons

He said, “Given that fall registration opens for first-year students in a matter of weeks, we must put forward a definitive answer now. And my answer to whether to implement the requirement is neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no.’ Rather, it is ‘not yet.’”

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Ongoing Debates at GMU Board of Visitors

At GMU, the Board of Visitors expressed reservations about mandating the “Just Societies” courses. These courses focus on identifying obstacles to justice and equity and strategies to address them. 

A statue on a university campus with a rainbow arching in the cloudy sky above. Modern buildings and trees fill the background

Source: GeorgeMasonU/X

The board is waiting for further discussions with the new provost and the incoming board members before making a final decision.

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Statewide Educational Policies

Michael J. Meese, a committee member and Youngkin appointee, discussed the broader implications of the governor’s educational policies. 

Governor Glenn Youngkin standing and clapping in the Virginia State Capitol, with onlookers clapping and a woman in an orange dress standing behind the podium

Source: GlennYoungkin/X

He told Inside Higher Ed, “I think it also should apply to us — that you should not have DEI offices or any other offices or any other professor that is promoting inherently divisive concepts.”

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Anticipating Changes at GMU

As the academic year approaches, the George Mason University community is awaiting decisions that could significantly affect how subjects are taught. 

Close-up of green and yellow "Mason Votes" buttons spread out on a table, promoting civic engagement among students at George Mason University

Source: GeorgeMasonU/X

With new leadership incoming, the discussions and decisions on the DEI curriculum mandates will be closely watched by students, faculty, and policymakers alike.

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