Education

University of Iowa resumes diversity training after pause

'The committee continues to review a handful of programs'

Liz Tovar, the University of Iowa's interim associate vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, said this week
Liz Tovar, the University of Iowa’s interim associate vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, said this week the university will resume most of its training programs on diversity, equity and inclusion. The training was reviewed after President Donald Trump’s Sept. 22 executive order halted the training in programs receiving federal funding if the training presented America as an “irredeemably racist and sexist country.” (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa will resume most of its training for faculty and staff in diversity, equity and inclusion.

The programs were temporarily halted after President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order last month barring training that contained race or sex “stereotyping” or “scapegoating.”

The UI and other universities receiving federal funding temporarily paused programming, while a UI committee reviewed the content of the training.

The committee “appreciates the questions, concerns and thoughtful discussions that arose from (the) executive order,” Liz Tovar, interim UI associate vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, said in a Thursday update.

“It has been a challenging few weeks as we have continued to navigate a complex set of external influences on our campus.”

Due to the complexity of the order, she said, “the committee continues to review a handful of programs but feels comfortable moving forward with our faculty and staff trainings.”

The UI faced backlash for pausing the programming out of concern over losing federal funding.

A committee has spent the weeks since looking primarily at employee training that “may include language or materials that could be deemed in violation of the executive order.”

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Tovar reported working with constituency groups to achieve more clarity around the order, how it might impact current training and how best to move forward.

Trump said he signed the order to upend “destructive ideology” he 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 humans and Americans,” according to the order.

Defense contractor Collins Aerospace in September also asked employees to postpone diversity training “until further notice,” pending legal assessment of the order.

Iowa State University and the state of Iowa, too, said they would review diversity training programs in light of the order, which extends to entities that receive federal grants and benefits.

The UI diversity training pause came as the campus ended its search for a permanent associate vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion after several candidates withdrew or said they would, in light of UI President Bruce Harreld’s retirement announcement.

That position has seen frequent turnover — including its interim leadership — since Georgina Dodge left the post three years ago.

In her message this week, Tovar — who has been charged with retaining the interim role indefinitely — said the diversity training review committee remains available to evaluate any programming in question.

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And she advised campus leaders moving forward to consider updated guidance the committee issued last week, including a disclaimer it composed for use with any training.

“The university provides training in support of its core values,” according to the disclaimer. “No part of the training is intended to cause anyone discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of their race, sex or any other protected classification,.”

The committee also urged colleges, departments and units to consider a list of factors in developing or hosting employee training going forward, such as the intended audience, given that the executive order focuses on employee, not student, training; whether training is federally funded since the order explicitly prohibits certain concepts and related materials if federal funds are in play; and whether it involves barred concepts like those that ascribe character traits and morals or assign blame to a race or sex solely because of a person’s race or sex.

Civil unrest, election season

The UI training review followed a summer of civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, and it came just weeks before a divisive election, with officials last week issuing a vague alert about “potentially offensive chalking” found on the T. Anne Cleary walkway — a major pedestrian thoroughfare on the east side of campus.

“This chalking does not represent the views of the University of Iowa and is not aligned with our institutional values,” according to a UI statement on the Oct. 14 chalking. “In these times, we acknowledge that tensions are high, and that people have the right to share their opinions, but we also acknowledge that some opinions are more harmful than others.”

UI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on Thursday issued a message about how to stay informed, vote and respect others this election season — reminding faculty, students, staff and alumni are “free to express viewpoints in public forums.”

“This includes viewpoints that may differ from the majority of people in the university community,” according to the message. “Our commitments to free expression and an inclusive community are not mutually exclusive.”

The university this fall has embarked on membership changes to its Civil Protest and Public Demonstration Safety Team — created two years ago with broad campus representation “trained to interact with students and community members during campus civil protests or public demonstrations.”

“The team’s role at protests and demonstrations is to observe, remain vigilant for actions that might endanger the safety of students and those involved or bring harm to university property or assets, and intervene as necessary and appropriate,” according to UI spokeswoman Hayley Bruce.

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The team, she said, also engages with demonstrators “to educate, provide support, and share their purpose for attending and can serve as a resource for answering questions or providing campus resources.”

UI administrators are making membership changes this fall “because several key members had recently taken on new roles in the Division of Student Life or elsewhere on campus.”

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

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