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As More State College Systems Dump DEI Programs, UNH Still Spends Millions

In North Carolina, the state is transferring $2.3 million of spending at its flagship state university from its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program to public safety and policing.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a law closing all DEI offices at state-funded colleges and universities.

The state of Florida, often viewed as a rival by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R-N.H.), eliminated all positions associated with DEI in its state college system last month.

And yet the Granite State continues to spend millions on DEI employees and programs in the University of New Hampshire system, which includes UNH, the Franklin Pierce School of Law, Plymouth State University, and Keene State College.

Why?

“That’s a good question,” said state Sen. Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), currently the frontrunner to take over the top spot in the Senate if the GOP holds its majority in November. (Senate President Jeb Bradley is retiring.)

The premise of DEI policies is that American institutions like universities are inherently racist or bigoted toward racial, sexual, and cultural minorities. Therefore, judging individuals based on merit is a mistake and should be rejected. Instead, hiring decisions should be based on identity politics in pursuit of collective justice.

“The University of Central Florida, in its ‘Inclusive Faculty Hiring’ guide, described merit in faculty hiring as a ‘narrative myth’ and advised employees to avoid using it in job descriptions and hiring materials,” DEI critic Chris Rufo wrote in The New York Times. “The guide also advocated explicit quotas of ‘minoritized’ groups in its hiring practices.”

Funding for the various DEI programs in New Hampshire’s higher education institutions is estimated at between $6 and $9 million, though that spending is scattered throughout various budget line items, making it hard to track. House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) said the lack of transparency surrounding DEI is a problem.

“Members have long been asking for a breakdown of DEI funding for the University Systems and have yet to receive an adequate answer. Hearing that UNH alone spends roughly $2 million on DEI, clearly intervention is required. We look forward to addressing this in the state budget next year,” Osborne said.

And the timing may be fortuitous.

Washington State University Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth Chilton will take over the reins at UNH this summer, following the retirement of current President James Dean. Sen. Dan Innis (R-Bradford), who teaches at UNH, said this is the perfect time to reexamine the system’s DEI programming and funding.

Chilton, who spent 16 years at UMass Amherst, was a featured speaker at the 2021 Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice Summit at Washington State University, where she touted her work on DEIJ.

“One of the large ways that I have leaned in, in the past 15 months, is through the initiation of our faculty cluster hire in racism and social inequality [specializations] in the Americas,” Chilton said.

“Given the profile of the new UNH president, I think it is highly likely that we in the Senate will take action next year, perhaps as a part of the budget,” Innis said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been an outspoken critic of taxpayer-funded DEI programs, and he helped usher through the higher education reforms that ended them.

“DEI is toxic and has no place in our public universities,” DeSantis said last month. “I’m glad that Florida was the first state to eliminate DEI, and I hope more states follow suit.”

But Sununu, who often touts the Granite State’s edge over Florida on issues of fiscal responsibility and personal freedom, is much more sanguine about DEI spending in his state’s budget.

Asked about the actions of North Carolina and Florida and whether New Hampshire should do the same, Sununu told NHJournal, “Obviously, any program — DEI included — would be looked at to say, ‘Okay, do we need to be funding this? Are the dollars appropriate? What are we getting for the return?’ We haven’t had any of those issues here in the state. None of that has been brought to my attention.

“If there was a concern, I would definitely look at it. But nothing has been brought to our attention. I’m simply saying those programs seem to be on a decent path, I suppose,” Sununu said.

However, several UNH trustees who spoke to NHJournal — on and off the record — said it was time to review DEI policies and spending, particularly as the college system is cutting staff and closing programs. On background, some trustees expressed concern that there is no scrutiny of DEI spending or its results.

New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner and University System of New Hampshire trustee Shawn Jasper, however, willingly voiced the concern shared by many that the DEI programs operating at the state schools are ill-defined, with vague goals that can’t be measured in a meaningful way.

“There are several trustees concerned about what the goal is and how we measure the success of the program,” Jasper said.

According to Jasper, the DEI programs at UNH are less about addressing deep-seated societal problems and more about a marketing strategy. Nearly 60 percent of UNH students now come from outside New Hampshire, paying higher tuition rates than in-state students. DEI is part of the package advertised to the out-of-state student population, he said.

“I don’t have a problem funding those things if there’s an articulated problem that needs to be addressed. That doesn’t seem to be the case, it seems like they have to have it to compete with the out-of-state student market,” Jasper said.

If UNH is going to keep its DEI program, Jasper wants to see it deployed in such a way that it can be quantified.

“If we’re going to have programs like this at our universities — and I’m not saying they are not needed — we need to be very clear what we are trying to solve and I’m not sure, in New Hampshire, that’s been articulated,” Jasper said.

DEI Director – And BLM Board Member — Out at Exeter School District

After months of concerns from district parents about his connection to anti-Israel protests, Andres Mejia, the head of SAU 16’s Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Justice (DEIJ) Department, is resigning.

The news comes just days after an NHJournal report highlighting the six-figure salaries some DEI directors are receiving from public schools in the state.

However, the district says there is nothing to read into Mejia leaving his post this month, well before the end of the school year.

Mejia did not respond to a request for comment. But SAU 16 Superintendent Esther Asbell said he simply needed to start his new job.

“Andres was asked by his new employer to be available as soon as possible,” Asbell said.

His departure was first reported by Granite Grok.

Mejia, reportedly earning a $153,380 salary, has been a controversial figure since first being hired. He serves in the leadership of the Black Lives Matter Seacoast chapter, which has been helping organize anti-Israel protests for months.

Like many similar protests that claim to be pro-Palestinian, the group started agitating against Israel immediately after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,300 Israelis on Oct. 7. Chants of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free,” viewed by the Anti-Defamation League as a call for genocide, feature heavily at those demonstrations.

When at least one parent complained to Asbell about Mejia’s role in BLM during the anti-Israel protests, asking how he could defend students against bigotry when BLM was engaging in antisemitic rhetoric, Asbell defended Mejia.

“Upon review of (district policy) I do not believe our DEI-J director is in violation of the policy by holding a position as Vice Chair of Seacoast BLM,” Asbell wrote earlier this year.

It’s not the first time Mejia’s BLM association raised concern in the school community. Challenged by parents during a public meeting in 2021, Mejia refused to distance himself from the group.

“I am Black, and I can never separate myself from Black Lives Matter,” Mejia said. “My life matters.”

Since then, BLM Seacoast has publicly opposed having police officers in public schools, giving qualified immunity protection for police, and it supports having government monitoring of the personal social media accounts of police officers.

Though he’s not a classroom teacher, Mejia is also one of the lead plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit over the so-called “divisive concepts” law. The pending lawsuit was filed soon after the legislature passed an anti-discrimination law that banned teachers from “teaching that any one group is inherently inferior, superior, racist or oppressive.” The words “divisive concepts” appear nowhere in the actual statute, though the term is often used by progressives opposed to the law.

Ironically, Mejia is one of a handful of other DEI professionals whose role is to dictate what teachers are allowed to teach.

Asbell said SAU 16 is ready to hire another DEIJ director.

‘Pro-Hoe’ Activists and BLM Leaders Bring DEI to NH Public Schools

Rachael Blansett was hired in 2022 by the Oyster River School District in Durham, N.H., for a salary somewhere between $95,000 and $105,000.

Andres Mejia at SAU 16 in Exeter is getting paid a salary of more than $100,000.

But neither of them are educating students or maintaining schools. Instead, they’re both paid to make sure the teachers and staff are advancing the race-based cause of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in their local classrooms.

For the 2021-2022 school year, the New Hampshire Department of Education reported the average public school teacher salary was $62,695.

Driven by school committees and superintendents committed to the so-called “DEI movement,” some New Hampshire public schools are hiring professional DEI directors, some with little real classroom experience, to lecture teachers, staff, and students about equity.

Interestingly, they are frequently paid significantly more than most teachers.

DEI programs, sometimes known as DEIJ for those who include “Justice” in the acronym, became fashionable following the nationwide protests over George Floyd’s 2020 murder by police in Minneapolis. They are common on college campuses. The University of New Hampshire has its own DEI division with at least nine full-time positions and a seven-figure budget.

Blansett, who never worked as a regular classroom teacher before getting the Oyster River job, is responsible for “work(ing) with teachers, administrators, and students to integrate DEIJ throughout the district. (Blansett) will lead trainings for teachers, revise curriculums so they align with district values of equity and inclusion, and act as a resource for anyone in the Oyster River community to ask questions about DEIJ taught in a classroom,” according to the district.

When Blansett isn’t advocating for race and gender-based education in Durham schools, she’s providing “racial equity education” for the New Hampshire chapter of Black Lives Matter.

According to its website, “Black Lives Matter New Hampshire strives to bring education to the community by providing training on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice within organizations, schools, and other local groups.” According to the biography linked to the page, Blansett’s “academic interests” include “challenging anti-Blackness and colonization ideology and theorizing/implementing accessible and liberatory practices.”

Rachael Blansett

And even before she came to New Hampshire, Blansett was speaking out for what she sees as racial justice. During a school board meeting in 2022, first reported by Granite Grok, it was revealed she recorded podcasts and posted comments on social media featuring messages like, “White people are not OK,” and “White people don’t wash their legs, and can’t dance.”

Blansett also raised eyebrows when photographed wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Pro Black, Pro Queer and Pro Hoe.”

When hired, she explained the controversial podcast was a collaboration with a friend and pledged to discontinue the project. She also claimed her comments about White people were not made with racist intentions.

At SAU 16 in Exeter, Mejia also has little classroom experience. Mejia did work as a Teach for America teacher for several months before becoming DEI director. And like Blansett, Mejia is directly involved with Black Lives Matter, serving as vice chair of the state chapter.

Confronted about his membership in an organization that has advocated race-based public policies, called for the defunding of the police, and has been rocked by financial scandals, Mejia said he would not quit BLM.

“I am Black, and I can never separate myself from Black Lives Matter,” he told concerned parents in 2021. “My life matters.”

SAU 16’s DEI statement makes clear part of Mejia’s job is to help students understand their personal role in upholding systemic racism and bigotry.

“Part of our educational mission is to awaken our students’ awareness of their power and privilege so that they may view the world through a lens of equity and help eliminate unjust systems and practices,” the district statement.

Peggy Massicotte, an SAU 16 parent, says the baked-in bigotry animating the district’s DEI program and Mejia’s BLM leadership shows the whole position ought to be scrapped.

“We have to look at the way we’re teaching this to kids,” Massicotte told NHJournal.

Massicotte also mentioned BLM’s role in recent pro-Palestinian protests in which antisemitic and genocidal slogans are chanted, like “There is only one solution/intifada revolution.”

“He’s the [BLM] vice chairman,” Massicotte noted.

Mejia and Blansett are both NH Listen Fellows at the University for New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, as is Tina Phillbotte, the Manchester School District’s DEI Director, who is paid close to $120,000 a year.

UNH recently underwent a punishing round of layoffs and cuts to save $14 million in the budget. While the university’s art museum and journalism program, which has produced Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, were affected, there appear to be no cuts to the university’s DEI programs. UNH pays at least $1 million a year in salaries for the DEI program staffers.

Closing the art museum saves UNH about $1 million.