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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — When former President Donald Trump last fall barred diversity training involving race or gender “stereotyping” or “scapegoating” at government-funded entities, the University of Iowa condemned the executive order while also temporarily pausing its diversity training for fear of losing federal dollars.
But in response to Iowa legislation that Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law Tuesday, echoing the now-reversed Trump order by barring the same “divisive” concepts from mandatory training at public universities, schools and other government entities, the UI has indicated the new law won’t affect its programming.
“We will continue our voluntary (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) training programs, including the BUILD and Implicit Bias Training, as the legislation applies to mandatory training,” according to a message from Liz Tovar, the UI associate vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Over the past three years, according to Tovar, more than 15,000 faculty and staff have voluntarily participated in its programming — which includes a “Building University of Iowa Leadership for Diversity” initiative, implicit bias training and “exploring white identity” workshops.
“Passage of (House File 802) will not stop or pause training on our campus,” Tovar wrote. “All of our DEI programs, training, and workshops will continue to be available to UI students, faculty, and staff.”
Additionally, Tovar affirmed the UI’ implicit bias training is not in jeopardy as it doesn’t “teach, advocate, act upon, or promote that an individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive due to their race or sex.” And she noted the new law won’t impact UI instruction because “academic instruction is specifically exempted from the legislation.”
“In our classrooms, conversations on divisive topics can and will continue because freedom of speech is protected within our constitution,” Tovar wrote. “These training tools and ongoing conversations are necessary to help us expand our community, collaborate, and treat each other with respect.”
The Iowa bill that Reynolds’ made law this week bars mandatory training at government entities, public schools, and Board of Regents universities that teaches:
- That members of a race or sex are inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive due to their race or sex;
- That one race or sex is inherently superior to another;
- That the United States and Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist;
- That a person should be discriminated against or adversely treated because of his or her race or sex;
- That members of a race or sex can’t or shouldn’t try to treat others “without respect to race or sex”;
- That a person’s moral character is determined by his or her race or sex;
- That a person, on account of his or her race or sex, “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex”;
- That a person should feel guilt or anguish due to his or her race or sex;
- And that traits like a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or “were created by a particular race to oppress another race.”
The new law also requires the universities’ diversity efforts to discourage students and bar employees from “discriminating against students and employees by political ideology” or other protected class.
The bill’s earlier iterations spelled out those other classes — like color, race, ethnicity and sex. The version that earned final passage names only “political ideology” specifically. The approved version also replaces the word “divisive” in describing the banned concepts with “defined.”
Republican lawmakers berated all three of Iowa’s public universities during the last legislative session for incidents on each campus involving suppression of conservative voices and ideas. One involving the UI College of Dentistry’s condemnation of Trump’s diversity-training prohibition and administrators’ handling of a conservative student who questioned their response prompted legislative hearings and lawmaker demands for campus action.
In a statement this week after signing the bill Reynolds said that “Critical race theory is about labels and stereotypes, not education. It teaches kids that we should judge others based on race, gender or sexual identity, rather than the content of someone’s character.”
In response to the passage, regents spokesman Josh Lehman said Wednesday the board and its universities “will review processes to ensure that we are in compliance with the new law” and will keep providing an “inclusive experience, both inside and outside the classroom.”
Lehman also added, “The board and our universities strongly believe in free expression, and have spoken out frequently in their support of free speech and the First Amendment. We will continue to fight for the rights of all students, faculty and staff to have all voices and opinions heard.”
The ACLU of Iowa issued a statement Wednesday condemning what it characterized as a “harmful, poorly written law, which is intended to censor and shut down speech about systemic racism and sexism.”
"This legislation is contradictory and confusing,” according to the ACLU. “It purports to not limit discussion of race and sex discrimination, or diversity and inclusion programs. But it then specifically bans discussions of systemic racism and systemic sexism in our society, institutions, and government. … Like the executive order that it was based on, this law aims to totally shut down discussions about racial and gender equity.”
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