University of Iowa condemns Trump order against diversity training

The Old Capitol Building between Jessup Hall (left) and MacLean Hall (right) on the Pentacrest on campus of the Universi
The Old Capitol Building between Jessup Hall (left) and MacLean Hall (right) on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa administrators Thursday condemned an executive order issued by President Donald Trump that has led them to pause all campus diversity and inclusion training for fear the programming could risk federal funding.

The Gazette and others reported this week that the UI was putting the training on hiatus for two weeks while it reviews the programming to see if it violates Trump’s order barring training that involves race and sex “stereotyping” or “scapegoating” for federal workers, contractors and grant recipients.

The ban appears to affect, among other things, implicit bias training that has become commonplace in private and public diversity efforts.

“We have heard from many on our campus regarding the chilling effect of Executive Order 13950 — and we agree with you,” according to a message from UI President Bruce Harreld, Interim Provost Kevin Kregel and Interim Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Liz Tovar.

“The history of racism and discrimination in our nation is an unquestioned fact, and we must face that as a society if we are to become a stronger country,” they wrote. “We are deeply disappointed in both the intention behind and the language used in the executive order, which carries the force of law.

“However, it would be irresponsible not to recognize its potential impact upon the university as a federal contractor and recipient of federal grant funding.”

Iowa’s public universities annually receive hundreds of thousands in federal research grants from, for example, the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Education and NASA.

The universities also annually have thousands of students on some form of federal financial aid.

Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa have said they’re reviewing the matter, as has the office of Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Some colleges and universities elsewhere have disavowed Trump’s order or decided to continue training and programming until receiving further guidance.

UI administrators said Thursday the pause on training is temporary.

“UI will continue with DEI training following its review,” which is being led by campus leaders who work in the diversity field.

Goals of the review, the message said, are to assess the training, update a database of UI offerings and resume programming Oct. 19.

“There are a number of sections of the executive order that need to be legally clarified, so taking a temporary pause to understand what we need to do to be in compliance is important given the financial resources at stake for our faculty, staff, students, and mission,” according to the message.

The UI has 923 active federally-funded projects, and in the 2020 budget year received $346.7 million in federal dollars.

Administrators said the pause won’t delay implementation of the university’s diversity action plan, work of a Reimagining Campus Safety Action Committee, evaluation and transformation of “gateway courses,” support for a postdoctoral fellowship program or the UI’s diversity seminar series.

“We look forward to resuming our training and continuing the work that we have in front of us as a campus and a community,” according to the message, which came after widespread public backlash including on social media.

“Dear uiowa,” one poster wrote, “please cease and desist all fundraising and development marketing indefinitely. This alumna will be donating to the NAACP and ACLU instead.”

The UI has expanded its diversity efforts in recent years even as it struggled to find and keep a diversity leader. Its associate vice president quit last year after just six weeks on the job.

After that resignation, the UI initially assigned its diversity units to report to Provost Montse Fuentes, but she was moved from that role earlier this year — signing a settlement similar to one the UI had offered the departed leader.

Weeks later, the UI appointed another interim associate vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion — its sixth in three years.

Among UI programming on pause for the review is harassment and discrimination training for UI employees; a certificate program that allows faculty and staff to commit to creating a “welcoming and inclusive environment”; “exploring white identity for effective allyship” workshops; implicit bias training; and a LGBTQ safe zone project.

Trump signed the order Sept. 22 to upend what he called “destructive ideology.”

“This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans,” the order states.

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