Education

University of Iowa pauses diversity training after Trump executive order

White House bars federal contractors from typical forms of diversity training

The Old Capitol Building on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. (The Gazette)
The Old Capitol Building on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is pausing for two weeks all of its diversity and inclusion training and programming to evaluate whether any of it violates a new executive order from President Donald Trump barring what he called race or sex “stereotyping” or “scapegoating” training for federal workers, contractors or grant recipients.

In a message disseminated over the weekend to the UI president’s cabinet and council of deans, Liz Tovar — interim associate vice president for UI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — said the temporary stoppage doesn’t alter the campus’ commitment to diversity.

“However, after consulting with multiple entities, and given the seriousness of the penalties for non-compliance with the order, which include the loss of federal funding, we are recommending that all units temporarily pause for a two-week period to evaluate any trainings, workshops, or programs that may include language or materials that could be deemed in violation of the executive order,” Tovar wrote.

The order, which Trump signed Sept. 22, aims to upend “destructive ideology” it argues is “grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world.”

“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.

The Gazette reported last month that Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids, a defense contractor, asked employees to postpone planned diversity training “until further notice,” pending legal assessment of the order.

The UI’s concerns, however, indicate the executive order’s implications could be broader and affect entities that receive federal benefits, which all of Iowa’s public universities do.

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Iowa State University said it was reviewing the matter. The University of Northern Iowa did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office respond to a question of whether state government might be affected.

As the UI has expanded its diversity, equity, and inclusion training and education efforts exponentially over the years, this immediate pause affects a multitude of initiatives including harassment and discrimination training for UI employees and a certificate program that allows faculty and staff to commit to creating a “welcoming and inclusive environment.”

The UI also offers “exploring white identity for effective allyship” workshops; implicit bias training; and a LGBTQ safe zone project.

“The executive order defines ‘race or sex stereotyping’ and ‘race or sex scapegoating’ broadly, along with providing an illustrative list of prohibited topics,” Tovar’s message said.

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

The University of Michigan on Sept. 26 condemned it, for example, calling the order “very troubling.”

“We are dismayed by an executive order that is a direct violation of our right to free speech and has the potential to undermine serious efforts to acknowledge and address long-standing racist practices that fail to account for disparate treatment of our citizens throughout our society,” according to a message from University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel. “The university will continue to examine the implications of this order and speak out against it.”

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

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In the 2020 budget year that ended June 30, the UI received $346.7 million in federal funding for sponsored projects. As of Thursday, the university had 923 “active federally-funded projects.”

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

The UI plan for evaluating its diversity programs begins with its creation of a committee “responsible for vetting all trainings, workshops, or programs.” The committee includes representatives from the Office of General Counsel; Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Human Resources; UI Health Care; and Purchasing.

Its members are asking for help from UI faculty and staff who “believe they or their units provide diversity, equity, and inclusion training that could potentially be deemed in violation of the executive order.”

Employees concerned their content could be in violation have been urged to fill out a questionnaire that asks for details and whether UI funds sponsor the training or program.

Factors involved in evaluating programming include whether it’s mandatory or optional, how it’s funded and whether any of its language matches forbidden examples highlighted in the order — like statements from the federal Argonne National Laboratories asserting racism “is interwoven into every fabric of America.”

UI trainings will be assessed a risk level for being in violation of the order, resulting in a range of possible recommendations like: revise the content, provide supplementary education or guidance to a trainer or eliminate the program.

“The University of Iowa recognizes the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion education and training and remains committed to becoming a more just and inclusive campus community,” UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said. “However, the university is a government contractor and the recipient of federal grants so is taking the necessary time to review the breadth of the order and understand the serious implications of noncompliance.”

When asked how ISU is handling the directive, spokeswoman Angie Hunt said the institution is “closely reviewing the executive order and is developing a detailed plan for compliance.”

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“In the meantime, the Office of University Counsel has communicated directly with campus departments regarding the implications of the executive order for ongoing diversity and inclusion training,” she said.

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

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