How "Divisive Concepts" Laws are Targeting Universities

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tags: higher education, culture war, critical race theory

On Friday, Florida’s governor signed a bill preventing public colleges from subjecting “any student or employee to training or instruction that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such student or employee to believe” a list of eight statements about race and identity.

The banned statements include:

  • “an individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.”
  • “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.”

Florida’s new law, which has already spurred a lawsuit, is the latest in a wave of Republican-backed proposals targeting critical race theory and “divisive concepts” in education. Though the initial batch of anti-CRT bills last year mostly focused on K-12 schools, more of them are now aimed at public colleges, according to PEN America, a free-speech advocacy group.

Professors, students, and others have expressed fear that the measures will chill teaching and discussions about race.

Anti-CRT laws targeting colleges have already led to changes on some campuses. It could be a sign of what’s to come in other states.



Tennessee’s governor signed a bill this month targeting 16 different race and identity concepts. While proposals in other states have often focused on mandatory diversity training for students, Tennessee’s law also bars such training for faculty and staff members.

The law prevents public colleges from discriminating against employees who don’t support the stated concepts and from requiring employees to endorse “a specific ideology or political viewpoint” for hiring, tenure, or promotion.

A spokesperson for the University of Tennessee at Knoxville referred The Chronicle to a statement about the law from last month and didn’t respond to specific questions about the law’s effects. But a handful of UT’s diversity efforts seem to be affected.

All academic colleges and departments at UT had submitted detailed diversity plans in fall of 2020, following a campus reckoning over racial justice. In February 2021, the university’s administration drafted a strategic plan that, among other things, would have required annual training for employees on “creating welcoming climates.”

But earlier this year, The College Fix, a conservative website, published an article singling out aspects of the diversity plans — including that several UT colleges were considering adding competence in diversity and equity to their tenure and promotion expectations. In February, several conservative groups published a reportthat criticized the university’s social-justice “apparatus,” encouraging the state legislature to act.

This spring, Republican lawmakers heeded that call.

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education