Ray Carter | May 7, 2021
Ban on racist stereotyping contrary to OU’s goals, president says
The president of the University of Oklahoma has declared his opposition to a bill that prohibits colleges from requiring students to take any orientation “that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex,” declaring the legislation to be “contrary to the goals we have laid out for ourselves as part of our Strategic Plan.”
House Bill 1775, which has passed both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature with strong majorities, states that no student at any Oklahoma college “shall be required to engage in any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling” and bans any “orientation or requirement that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex.”
The legislation also includes provisions that ban K-12 schools from requiring or making part of a course any material that declares “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
OU President Joseph Harroz, in a statement provided to the OU Daily, the college’s student newspaper, announced his opposition to HB 1775.
Harroz told the Daily that HB 1775 “runs contrary to the goals we have laid out for ourselves as part of our Strategic Plan, and the initiatives we have established to make OU a place of true belonging for all.”
At the same time, a letter signed by four students involved with the University of Oklahoma Student Government Association urged opposition to the bill, declaring that HB 1775 “has the potential to seriously hurt the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts on our campus.”
OU’s actions in recent months regarding its “diversity, equity, and inclusion” efforts have been criticized for fostering an atmosphere of racist discrimination and a potential violation of students’ constitutional rights.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has warned that OU’s mandatory training violates students’ First Amendment rights because it requires them to agree with certain viewpoint statements in order to complete training, regardless of a student’s actual views.
HB 1775 “runs contrary to the goals we have laid out for ourselves as part of our Strategic Plan, and the initiatives we have established to make OU a place of true belonging for all.” —OU President Joseph Harroz
“It’s hard to see how this could be seen as anything other than unconstitutional compelled speech…” FIRE officials recently stated.
The Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture (GCA) at the University of Oklahoma recently announced that white students would be taught “cultural humility” and that students and staff in the architecture program could soon be evaluated for their support of “anti-racist” beliefs—even though advocates openly acknowledge those beliefs require deliberate racial discrimination.
OU has mandated “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” training for all students and staff at the University of Oklahoma. In that training, students have been told the phrase “Boomer Sooner” is steeped in racism and can represent a form of oppression; that OU remains a place of discrimination where students may literally fear for their lives; and that support for racial equality is wrongheaded and “equity” measures that can involve different treatment for different groups based on individuals’ race and other characteristics should be embraced instead.
A separate training explicitly instructs OU staff to embrace “political correctness” in their communications.
OU’s mandatory diversity training also cites a controversial Implicit-Association Test (IAT) as authoritative evidence for the existence of “implicit bias” even though the test has been widely criticized. Experts say the IAT produces “false positives” for racism 60 percent to 90 percent of the time with results changing dramatically from one day to the next. Critics also note that half of African Americans who take the IAT are scored as having a strong or moderate bias for White=Good.
OU officials have said the provisions of the contract the college signed with the program vendor, Everfi, prevents distribution of the college’s diversity-training materials outside the school setting, meaning families have no meaningful access to the content of OU’s diversity program prior to a student’s enrollment and obligation to pay tuition and fees.
Instead, the provisions of OU’s mandatory training have become public thanks in part to many students who object to the material’s racial views.
Yet in their letter opposing HB 1775, the four students listed as authors of the letter declare that, as “senior leaders” of the Student Government Association, they “represent all 26,372 students” attending OU.
Rep. Kevin West, a Moore Republican who is the House author of HB 1775, said he has spoken with OU students about the bill, including some involved in student government at the college. He said one thing those students acknowledge is that they don’t think OU’s mandatory “diversity” training has any real value.
“They did confirm that the training course is completely pointless,” West said.
OU’s mandatory “diversity, equity, and inclusion” training does not allow students to proceed until they have provided a specific answer to questions many argue are rooted in individual perception, not fact. West said students who have reached out say the training is more an exercise in determining school-approved responses than anything.
“It doesn’t take much to realize how they want you to answer—just click on that and you check that box and get out,” West said. “It’s not really doing any good.”
He said one common trait he has noticed about “every one” of the statements of opposition issued about HB 1775 is that they do not describe its contents correctly.
“It’s very disturbing that the people we entrust to teach our children refuse to be able to realize exactly what the bill says,” West said. “They will correctly apply it in some parts, and then leave certain words out to make their point, and misapply the language of the bill. That part has been very disturbing, and it’s been a common thread.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt subsequently announced that he has signed HB 1775 into law.
[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.