Education

University of Iowa student leaders call for prompt resumption of diversity training

'Statements ultimately do little'

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 — University of Iowa student leaders have asked their campus to promptly reinstate diversity training it recently paused in response to a White House executive order threatening to pull funding from institutions using race and sex “stereotyping” and “scapegoating” programming.

Although UI administrators — including President Bruce Harreld and Interim Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Liz Tovar — last week condemned the order, UI shared governance leaders in a recent statement said administrative words aren’t enough.

“Statements ultimately do little to remedy (Graduate and Professional Student Government’s) deep concerns that this Executive Order will significantly hinder long-standing efforts and ongoing institutional investment in addressing racial inequity and injustice,” according to the GPSG statement Thursday. “Accordingly, we implore the University of Iowa to reinstate any paused DEI trainings as soon as possible.”

The university has not, however, and officials said the pause will continue through Oct. 18 — allowing them two weeks to complete a review of the campus’ diversity, equity, and inclusion training and educational programs.

“We are deeply disappointed in both the intention behind and the language used in the executive order, which carries the force of law,” according to last week’s statement from Harreld, Tovar, and Interim Provost Kevin Kregel. “However, it would be irresponsible not to recognize its potential impact upon the university as a federal contractor and recipient of federal grant funding.”

UI has 923 active federally-funded projects and in the 2020 budget year landed $346.7 million in federal support for sponsored projects. Students received federal financial aid, additionally.

And officials with Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, and the State of Iowa also have told The Gazette they’re reviewing implications of the executive order, which President Donald Trump signed Sept. 22 aimed at upending 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.

UI officials have not answered The Gazette’s questions about how many trainings the pause affects. But UI shared governance leaders — including Undergraduate Student Government, Graduate and Professional Student Government, Faculty Senate, and Staff Council — said they’re “monitoring the rationale behind and the consequences of the university’s decision to temporarily pause DEI-related training programs.”

“As shared governance leaders on campus, we write today to express our concern about the intent and implications of Executive Order 13950,” according to the shared statement. “We worry the order threatens academic freedom and could lead to censorship on campus.

“Academic freedom allows institutions of higher education to decide for themselves what ideas they wish to explore, as well as how they wish to explore them.”

The shared governance group expressed explicit concern about the order’s implications for freedom of expression.

“By singling out specific concepts for potential sanction, the order risks silencing campus conversations among students, faculty, and staff about some of the most salient and debated issues of the day,” according to the joint statement, promising to monitor the UI response to the order “in an effort to prevent any curtailment of the freedoms our institutions hold dear.”

Although most of the campus’ review of diversity training continues, UI Health Care on Friday announced its review is complete “and all our own DEI-related trainings and programming have fully resumed.”

UI Vice President for Medical Affairs Brooks Jackson did not include in his message details of whether any of the training or programming changed as a result of the review.

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“I want to reiterate UI Health Care’s unwavering commitment to fostering an environment that is culturally and intellectually diverse, equitable, inclusive, and in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full potential,” he wrote. “We have more work to do toward that end, and together we will succeed.”

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

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