Dozens of higher ed groups blast critical race theory bans

But South Dakota's governor asks leaders not to teach students that they are responsible for their ancestors' actions
By: | June 16, 2021
The new policies that have emerged in about 20 states characterize critical race theory and education about racism as “divisive concepts.”The new policies that have emerged in about 20 states characterize critical race theory and education about racism as “divisive concepts.”

Efforts to restrict critical race theory infringe “on the right of faculty to teach and of students to learn,” a broad coalition of civil rights advocates, historians, campus administrators and faculty said Wednesday.

“A white-washed view of history cannot change what happened in the past,” said a joint statement from the Association of American Colleges & Universities, the American Association of University Professors, the American Historical Association and PEN America. “A free and open society depends on the unrestricted pursuit and dissemination of knowledge.”

The new policies that have emerged in about 20 states characterize critical race theory and education about racism as “divisive concepts.” But those policies define these concepts with only “a litany of vague and indefinite buzzwords and phrases, including, for example, ‘that any individual should feel or be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological or emotional distress on account of that individual’s race or sex,'” the statement says.

Critical race theory, also known as CRT, focuses on a legacy of racism and discrimination that its proponents contend is intertwined throughout U.S. history and institutionalized across society. Opponents contend it paints all white people as racist and could harm white students.

And while many of the executive orders and new laws enacted across the nation focus on blocking critical race theory in K-12, efforts to bar CRT in college classrooms have popped up in recent weeks.

Gov. Kristi Noem has asked her state’s Board of Regents to “preserve honest, patriotic education throughout South Dakota’s institutions of higher learning” while still examining the mistakes of the past.

“My goal … is that all education institutions throughout South Dakota, including our state universities, will resist the national trend teaching students that—by virtue of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin—they are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of those same classes,” Noem wrote in a letter to the Regents.

In Kansas, a Republic state legislator has asked public universities to generate a list of courses that cover critical race theory, The Kansas City Star reported. Meanwhile, more than $400,000 was cut Boise State University’s budget by Idaho state legislators opposed to what they called “a social justice agenda,” USA Today reported.

And in Kentucky, lawmakers plan to file a bill in 2022 that would prohibit colleges and universities from holding conversations “formal or informal” that imply anyone is inherently racist because of their race or sex, according to USA Today.

Loss of academic freedom? 

Efforts to restrict critical race theory seek to usurp the judgment of professional educators and transfer the power of setting curriculum to elected officials, says Wednesday’s AACU statement, which was undersigned by 75 other education organizations.

The new policies also eliminate long-accepted academic freedoms granted to college and university faculty members.

“The purpose of education is to serve the common good by promoting open inquiry and advancing human knowledge,” the statement says. “Politicians in a democratic society should not manipulate public school curricula to advance partisan or ideological aims.”

One law banning critical race theory has already been tested. Oklahoma City Community College administrators announced last week that the school would offer a summer Race & Ethnicity course after legal counsel made sure it did not violate the new law.

“We aim to lower the temperature of extreme positions, to expose our students to a wide range of views about the complexities of race and ethnicity, and to challenge our students to think, practice civil discourse and debate, and embrace every opportunity to learn about experiences others have had that are different than their own,” the college said a statement. “This includes sober reflection and instruction about the legacy of racism in the United States.”