Frequently Asked Questions about HB261

Updated as of May 9, 2024

HB261 goes into effect July 1, 2024. While there are still a few outstanding issues, this FAQ attempts to address some questions that have been posed about the legislation. 

To what areas of campus does HB261 apply?

The legislation applies to the entire university, which includes, but is not limited to, units, colleges, divisions, departments, programs, committees, centers and/or other university sub-units. It also applies to employees when engaged in their employment capacity and some students/student organizations where it is determined that they have a nexus with the university that would require compliance.

What does HB261 do?

HB 261 prohibits the university from engaging in certain practices on campuses, described more fully below, such as participating in prohibited discriminatory practices, requiring prohibited submissions or prohibited trainings, taking or expressing certain positions or making admissions or employment decisions based on personal identity characteristics.

What do individual employees, divisions, departments, or other areas have to do now? 

Each area of the university must review their policies, procedures, practices, programs, offices, and initiatives and decide whether any prohibited discriminatory practices, trainings, or required submissions exist and either modify them to come into compliance or eliminate them.

Each area must also review the language in their mission, vision, values, goals, strategic plans, job descriptions, or acknowledgment statements and remedy them from including prohibited language.

Any area that needs help should contact

What are prohibited discriminatory practices? 

The university cannot have any office, division, employee or hire an outside entity that coordinates, creates, develops, designs, implements, organizes, plans or promotes any activities related to prohibited discriminatory practices. 

The law identifies prohibited discriminatory practices as engaging in or maintaining a policy, procedure, practice, program, office, initiative or required training:

- that based on personal identity characteristics:

  • Promotes differential treatment of an individual;
  • Influences employment decisions of an individual other than through the use of neutral hiring processes and in accordance with federal law;
  • Influences an individual’s admission to, advancement in or graduation from an institution or academic program; or
  • Influences an individual’s participation in an institution-sponsored program.

- or that:

  • Asserts that one personal identity characteristic is inherently superior or inferior to another;
  • Asserts that an individual, by virtue of personal identity characteristic, is inherently privileged, oppressed, racist, sexist, oppressive or a victim, whether consciously or unconsciously;
  • Asserts that an individual should be discriminated against, receive adverse treatment, be advanced or receive beneficial treatment because of the individual’s personal identity characteristic;
  • Asserts that an individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s personal identity characteristic;
  • Asserts that an individual by virtue of personal identity characteristic bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same personal identity characteristic;
  • Asserts that an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or other psychological distress solely because of the individual’s personal identity characteristic;
  • Asserts that a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist;
  • Asserts that sociopolitical structures are inherently a series of power relationships and struggles among racial groups;
  • Promotes resentment between, or resentment of, individuals by virtue of their personal identity characteristics;
  • Ascribes values, morals or ethical codes, privileges or beliefs to an individual because of the individual’s race, color, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or gender identity;
  • Considers an individual’s personal identity characteristics in determining receipt of state financial aid or other state financial assistance; or
  • Is referred to or named diversity, equity and/or inclusion.

Are there exclusions to what is considered a discriminatory practice? What about academic freedom? 

The prohibitions do not apply in the following instances:

  • Policies or procedures required to comply with state or federal law; 
  • Requiring disclosure of an academic employee’s academic research, classroom teaching, or coursework;
  • Require disclosure or discussion of a research, teaching agenda, artistic creations, pedagogical approaches or experience with students of all learning abilities for purposes of employment, tenure, or promotion;
  • Requirements necessary for athletic and accreditation compliance;
  • Requirements necessary to establish or maintain eligibility for any federal program;
  • Academic research; 
  • Academic course teaching in the classroom;
  • A grant that would otherwise require a department, office, division or other unit to engage in a prohibited discriminatory practice if the grant has been reviewed and approved by the board of trustees or board of higher education.

What is a prohibited submission? 

Any submission, statement, document or request that requires an individual to articulate a position, view, contribution, effort or experience regarding a policy, program or initiative that promotes differential treatment based on personal identity characteristics; includes submission, statement, or document that relates to a policy, program or initiative regarding anti-racism, bias, critical race theory, implicit bias, intersectionality, racial privilege, or any prohibited discriminatory practices.

The university cannot grant preferential treatment to, require, solicit or compel as certification or condition before taking action with respect to employment, hiring, terms of employment, benefits, compensation, seniority status, tenure or continuing status, promotion, performance reviews, transfer, termination, appointment, admission to, advancement in, graduation from institution or program, participation in institution-sponsored program, qualification for or receipt of state financial aid or other state financial assistance.

What is a prohibited training? 

A mandatory instructional program and related materials for current or prospective employees, students or prospective students, that promote discriminatory practices, including in-person or online seminars, discussion groups, workshops, other programs or related materials. Trainings are considered mandatory if the person is required to attend or complete the training as a condition of employment or that would influence their ability to receive a promotion, tenure, or raise, or as a condition of admission, graduation, receipt of a certificate, or participation in student activities.

What will happen to the Division of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion?

The university will no longer have a Division of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. A reorganization has already begun to move those areas under the Division of Student Access and Success (SAS). Positions will be reimagined to remove any prohibited discriminatory practices and will align with related areas in SAS. A detailed organizational chart has been shared with EDI and SAS leadership and will be finalized soon. Although titles and responsibilities will change, no one will lose their job.

What will happen to identity-based centers?

The university will no longer have identity-based centers but will instead reconfigure spaces and services to adopt a student coaching and programming focus, enabling the university to offer personalized support tailored to the unique needs of each student. This includes modifying position descriptions, organization, and spaces. 

What will happen to WSUSA? 

WSUSA will need to come into compliance with HB 261, as we determine further the applicability of the statute. The student Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will be modified to become the Vice President for Advocacy and Unity. Affinity-based senator positions will be discontinued and new senator positions may be created that comply with the law. Current student senators will not lose their activity waivers.

How will HB261 impact speech on campus? 

The university may not take, express or assert a position or opinion on anti-racism, bias, critical race theory, implicit bias, intersectionality, racial privilege, or prohibited discriminatory practices.
The president’s messages on university matters are presumed to be “university” expression absent an express disclaimer.  

Factors that may be considered in determining when other employees are engaging in institutional speech include when:  

  • They are speaking as part of their responsibilities for the institution;  
  • They have been granted authority by statute, ordinance, regulation, job description, custom, or usage; 
  • They are utilizing communication channels commonly or regularly used for institutional communication;  
  • The message is closely controlled by institutional leadership; or 
  • They are purporting to speak on behalf of the institution, or otherwise acting in such a manner that they would likely be perceived by the public as speaking on behalf of the institution.   

HB 261 does not abridge academic freedom as identified by the university, nor the First Amendment rights of individuals who are authorized to speak for the university, to take, express, and assert personal opinions and positions in other capacities. However, such individuals should explicitly differentiate personal expression from institutional speech.  

The university may regulate other employee speech in accordance with First Amendment principles regarding whether a matter is of public concern (not a personal grievance of the individual) and whether the interest of the institution in protecting against disruption, efficiency, harmony, and interference with business operations outweighs the interest of the employee in engaging in the expressive activity.

Supporting free speech is vital to the health of an institution of higher education as a marketplace of ideas, as well as a constitutional imperative. HB261 requires the university to establish policies and procedures to include opportunities for education and research on free speech and civic education, including helping employees understand the bounds of free speech in their role working for the university. The university provides these opportunities and will be creating even more specific learning opportunities through Training Tracker. Learn more about free speech and the university’s policies on the free speech website.

How will HB261 impact speakers on the campus?

Under current university and Board of Higher Education policy, the university is charged to provide the opportunity for a plurality of speakers to engage an array of viewpoints. HB261 affirms that directive and the university will be reviewing its processes for creating those forums for speakers on campus.


The information above is for general overview purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Each situation is different and legal review is fact-specific. Consult the law or policies for specific information.