Higher Education

Would Oklahoma DEI repeal impact college sports?

Ray Carter | November 1, 2023

Due to conference realignment, this year’s Bedlam game between Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma may be the last such matchup for years.

But a state college leader recently suggested the entire future of both football programs could be put in jeopardy if lawmakers restrict “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) programs on Oklahoma college campuses.

During an interim study on college DEI programs, conducted by the Senate Education Committee, the head of the state’s college system suggested that state universities’ academic accreditation could be lost if DEI is eliminated and that DEI rollback would also harm the ability of college teams to compete in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) events, which include football.

“It’s not just in the areas of academics that we deal with these requirements, but also athletics as well,” Allison Garrett, chancellor, the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, told lawmakers.

In her presentation, Garrett told lawmakers that the NCAA requires Division I athletic programs, such as OU and OSU, to “complete an equity, diversity and inclusion review at least once every four years.”

“There are requirements regarding diversity, equity and inclusion,” Garrett said.

Organized DEI programs at colleges have long been criticized for dividing and pitting students against one another based on race and social status in ways critics say violate students’ constitutional rights.

But if lawmakers act to address that problem on state campuses, Garrett’s presentation seemed to suggest it would come at the expense of wildly popular college sports programs.

However, the NCAA’s actual mandate for schools suggests otherwise.

On its website, the NCAA states that member colleges “have the autonomy to complete the diversity, equity, and inclusion review in the ways that best fit their campus and athletics department needs and goals.”

Furthermore, the NCAA states, “Institutions are not required to submit the results of the review to the NCAA.”

The only requirement imposed by the NCAA is that schools must conduct a review every four years and the college’s president or chancellor and director of athletics must sign a form attesting that a review has been completed.

State Sen. Rob Standridge, who requested the study on DEI, said the NCAA requirement gives schools wide latitude and clearly does not mandate the type of DEI activity that has generated nationwide controversy.

“Once you go digging, they just really want universities to treat everybody fairly and they want an analysis,” said Standridge, R-Norman. “I think that’s what those groups want. And the universities are using it as an excuse to push DEI and discrimination.”

Garrett’s presentation also noted that the NCAA requires member schools to appoint a senior woman administrator in each athletics department.

However, repeal of DEI programs in Oklahoma colleges would not prevent schools from hiring women.

OU’s prior DEI-style initiatives have included material critical of longstanding athletic traditions at the school.

A diversity training program that the university made mandatory for students in the 2020-2021 school year discouraged students from chanting “Boomer Sooner.”

“Settlers called ‘boomers’ believed they had the right to settle these lands, despite the land being settled by Native Americans,” the OU training program informed students. “During the Land Rush of 1889, settlers who rushed to claim the land before the signal (a cannon blast sounded at noon on April 22, 1889) were called ‘sooners.’ This dubious history of the phrase ‘Boomer Sooner’ has led to several Native communities to decry the use of this phrase, citing its origins based on the disenfranchisement of Native Americans.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

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.

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