Adam Kissel | November 6, 2020
Transparency needed in campus diversity training
Oklahomans deserve transparency from public colleges across the board. Not only colleges’ budgets should be open for review, but so should the content of what they teach faculty, staff, and students.
For more than a decade, Texans have had many such benefits under state law, including budgets at the level of departments. Now that “critical race theory” trainings have been exposed as commonly using divisive stereotyping and scapegoating on the basis of race, Oklahoma and Texas both would do well to ensure that publicly funded colleges also reveal their diversity-related training materials for staff and faculty members.
This summer, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture was shamed into removing a graphic that used dozens of stereotypes to describe “whiteness” and “white culture.” It turned out that several federal agencies were using similar concepts to train staff. These concepts are common to critical race theory, a way of looking at the world that reduces individuals to a stereotypical racial identity and blames social problems on pervasive racism. The infamous 1619 Project, which reinterprets American history as a story of endemic racism and racial resistance, is another manifestation of this theory.
As a result, President Donald Trump banned such training across the federal government and ordered that the government stop contracting with any entity that teaches its staff by scapegoating or stereotyping people by race or sex. Many American colleges are federal contractors or vendors, and they are subject to the President’s order. Millions, if not billions, of dollars are at stake.
But when OCPA journalist Ray Carter asked the University of Oklahoma for access to its diversity training, OU would not provide it, requiring instead that the material be requested via the state’s open records law.
A simple solution would be to require universities to post all staff and faculty training materials online. Texas already does so for other types of information such as syllabi, and it could easily add a few lines to its Education Code for this additional information (see Texas H.B. 2504 for the location and language).
Another analogy is the U.S. Department of Education’s new regulation regarding nondiscrimination in education on the basis of sex. This regulation, interpreting Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, requires that colleges receiving federal funding must publicly post online “all materials used to train Title IX Coordinators, investigators, decision-makers, and any person who facilitates an informal resolution process” in campus Title IX cases. (Discrimination complaints regarding Title IX or the President's order may be filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights here.)
Such requirements are simple to articulate, and they will help legislators and other citizens understand what is really going on when colleges say they are dedicating new efforts to diversity, inclusion, and equity. The core elements of such a law are the following:
- Each institution of higher education shall make available to the public on the institution’s website all training materials used for staff training (which includes faculty training) on all matters of nondiscrimination, diversity, equity, inclusion, race, ethnicity, sex, cultural competence, or bias, or any combination of any of these topics with other topics.
- This requirement includes all formats, not limited to video, audio, self-guided modules, slides, and, when feasible, recordings of presentations.
- The information should be accessible from the institution’s website homepage by use of not more than three links, and it should be linked from pages, if any, that explain the institution’s efforts in the area of diversity. All text should be searchable by keywords and phrases. All materials should be accessible to the public without requiring registration, a password, or any kind of user identification. No “cookies” or other tracking may be placed on a viewer’s electronic device.
- The information should be posted prior to the first instance of training or, at latest, seven days after the training. It should remain posted for at least two years.
- When a training is superseded by a new version or by an entirely new training, the old version must remain on the institution’s site but may be moved to an archive area that is linked from the repository of current trainings.
- In an annual report to appropriate legislative and executive officials, the institution should make clear the full, aggregate budget for such trainings, including staff time and prorated use of space. Speakers paid $1,000 or more should be named in the report, and their presentations should be described.
The whole bill would fit on two pages—or a single page. It would provide transparency, assurance that Oklahoma colleges do not have federal funding at risk, and savings to taxpayers by avoiding open-records litigation. If the training is good, citizens also might profit by taking it for themselves.
Adam Kissel is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Programs in the Office of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. He previously served as vice president of programs for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, directing the program that defended the fundamental rights of students and faculty members across the country. He holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Chicago.