Iowa bills would ban ‘divisive concepts’ in public colleges’ diversity training

Dive Brief:

  • Twin bills moving through Iowa’s legislature would ban the state’s public colleges from teaching what it defines as “divisive concepts” in diversity training.

  • Some of the ideals that would be banned include that the state of Iowa is “fundamentally” racist or sexist, or an individual “is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive”because of their race or sex.

  • The proposals mirror an executive order issued by former President Donald Trump barring federal grant recipients, including colleges, from promoting similar ideas in diversity training. 

Dive Insight:

Colleges were quick to criticize Trump’s executive order, which applied to public and private institutions, saying it would stifle free expression. Even the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties watchdog, raised concerns about it limiting free speech.

Several institutions, including the University of Iowa, paused diversity training as they tried to determine whether their programs complied with the directive. 

A federal judge in December blocked most aspects of the order, and the Biden administration has since rescinded it. 

However, the ban could be revitalized in Iowa, where the legislature’s two chambers each passed a version of the diversity training legislation this month. The bills are largely the same. Unlike Trump’s edict, they would only affect public colleges.  

The two bills emphasize that colleges can continue to promote training that creates an inclusive environment, but their employees or contractors cannot teach the “divisive concepts.” Another prohibited idea is that an individual, based on race or sex, “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”

The Senate bill includes additional provisions addressing free speech. One section directs institutions to punish faculty members who infringe on students’ free expression. 

Iowa lawmakers are attempting to come down on faculty in other ways. Two bills are moving forward that would end the tenure system at the state’s public universities.

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