Education

Bill bans diversity training in schools, universities implying 'Iowa is fundamentally racist or sexist'

Proposal would make White House ban on race or sex 'scapegoating' law for Iowa universities, schools

The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

An Iowa legislator is proposing to bake into state law an executive order from the Trump administration that banned publicly funded institutions from diversity training that involves race or sex “stereotyping” or “scapegoating” — which incited criticism from University of Iowa leaders that in turn incensed GOP lawmakers.

Though the federal order has been rescinded by the Biden administration, state Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, this week introduced Senate Study Bill 1205, which was advanced by an education subcommittee.

It would bar all K-12 public schools and public universities from offering diversity training that, among other things, says a person, based on his or her sex or race, “is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.”

The bill also bans any training implying that “the State of Iowa is fundamentally racist or sexist.” And it prohibits training suggesting that a person “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex”; or that he or she should feel psychological distress due to his or her race or sex.

The proposed legislation — which also would set provisions for discrimination complaints against the public universities and penalties for faculty or K-12 instructors who restrict free speech — comes amid a swirl of bills this session aimed at cracking down on Iowa’s public universities, which Republican lawmakers have slammed for First Amendment violations.

In the fall, an Iowa State University professor came under fire for crafting a syllabus that warned students not to take positions in class opposing things like abortion, Black Lives Matter or same-sex marriage. The University of Northern Iowa’s student government rejected a student organization applicant that opposed abortion rights, calling it a “hate group.” And the UI and its dental college issued statements condemning the White House order banning many common diversity training programs.

In a mass email exchange, a UI dental student questioned his dean for condemning the executive order.

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A Legislative Oversight Committee this session slammed all three campuses for those incidents, and lawmakers have proposed bills that would — among other things — eliminate tenure, require the campuses to poll employees’ political affiliation and make all instructors post online their class syllabi.

Student government crackdown

Sinclair’s bill also addresses concerns with student government actions on the campuses.

It would order universities to make “a student government organization’s access to and authority over any moneys distributed to the student government organization by the institution contingent upon the student government organization’s compliance with the First Amendment.”

If a university determines its student government knowingly and intentionally violated a person or group’s First Amendment rights, administrators would have to “suspend the student government organization’s authority to manage and disburse student fees for two years.”

The campus would take over that job during the suspension, according to the bill.

Committee suggestions

Board of Regents President Mike Richards in November established a group charged with evaluating the board’s free speech policy and recommending changes.

After meeting for the last several months, the committee has generated 10 recommendations the regents are scheduled to discuss next week.

Those changes would:

• Mandate campuses use a course syllabus statement like ISU imposed in the fall, committing to uphold the First Amendment and vowing that students won’t be punished “for the content or viewpoints of their speech” so long as it’s germane and expressed appropriately;

• Require faculty and instructors review the free speech syllabus statement at the beginning of each course;

• Reaffirm university resources won’t be used for partisan activities;

• Permit universities — including their presidents, vice presidents, deans and directors — to “only take an institutional position on policy matters, in conjunction with the board;”

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• Bar the universities from allowing discrimination or denial of educational benefits due to a student organization or student’s viewpoint;

• Make the universities post the regent and campus policies and procedures, “including how to appeal to the board regarding violations of free expression”;

• Charge the campuses with adding policies and procedures that include “penalties for violations of free expression to its current process for violations of university or board policies;”

• And mandate annual free speech training for students, faculty and staff.

The committee also recommended establishing a group to review campus free speech complaints, annually evaluate free speech policies, consider training improvements and every two years conduct a campus free speech survey.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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