Want to know how diversity, equity, and inclusion ideology has begun to take over public higher education in Alabama? Read Scott Yenor’s recent report, “Going Woke in Dixie?: The progress of DEI at the University of Alabama and Auburn University.”
He details the effects of the University of Alabama’s “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) strategic plan, lists the number of well-paid diversity officers, and catalogs how athletics and Greek life have been subordinated to DEI ideology. His description of DEI at Auburn University is just as comprehensive. “Going Woke in Dixie?” provides chapter and verse on just how badly DEI has colonized Alabama’s system of public higher education.
In 2019, the report notes, UA celebrated that more than one-third of its undergraduate curriculum is “diversity related.” The university also pays 31 dedicated DEI personnel, and its education school dean believes DEI is “the whole purpose of the university.”
“Social activism in previously underrepresented communities now helps faculty earn tenure at the University of Alabama, as opposed to a solid teaching and research record,” the report notes. The report estimates the two universities spend more than $5 million on DEI initiatives a year. Auburn pays 20 full-time DEI staff and uses racial criteria when hiring staff.
Radical advocates in higher education, especially in “red” states, often pretend DEI isn’t really there. Yenor’s report makes it clear to Alabama’s citizens and policymakers that any such denials from university officials will have nothing to do with reality. The pervasive extent and illiberal effect of DEI in Alabama’s public university system clearly warrants a response by Alabama’s state legislators.
The paired bills of HB7 and SB247, which would ban requiring “divisive concepts” in Alabama’s higher education system, seem a fine first step. These make clear that they do not affect classroom teaching, save when classroom teaching would “compel assent to any divisive concept.” They also state explicitly that they should not be construed “to inhibit or violate any First Amendment rights.” These provisions should be enough to make them pass constitutional muster. At worst, cosmetic alterations are in order.
Indeed, these bills leave much reform work to be done. The bills would leave universities free to follow accreditation regulations. Yet regional accreditors have been grossly politicized for years, especially the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), which accredits Alabama institutions. Also, while the bills would set up an expectation to remove the DEI bureaucracy from operating in Alabama, they would provide no enforcement mechanism.
The Civics Alliance of the National Association of Scholars, where I work, has written a Model Higher Education Code, with a great many bills that are meant to work in tandem to remove DEI from a public university. We suggest that Alabama policymakers consider using the following bills to inform their campaign to depoliticize Alabama higher education:
- Mission Statement Act: Commits every component of the public university system to the free and unpoliticized pursuit of truth.
- College Finances Act: Requires budget transparency and gives state policymakers a line-item veto on university budgets.
- Higher Education Gateway Requirements Act: Gives state legislators and the governor the power to veto proposed higher education gateway requirements at public universities.
- Campus Freedoms Act: Requires public universities to guarantee a wide range of First Amendment freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
- Human Nature Act: Requires public universities to classify faculty, staff, and students by sex rather than by subjective and arbitrary “gender.”
- Campus Due Process Act: Requires public universities to guarantee a wide range of due process procedures.
- Campus Intellectual Diversity Act: Mandates institutional neutrality, prohibits political discrimination, and protects pluralism for student organizations and invited speakers.
- Universities Nondiscrimination Act: Prohibits universities from discriminating by group identity and prohibits discriminatory concepts in administrative trainings.
We drafted these model bills without enforcement mechanisms because we thought state policymakers should determine their own measures of enforcement.
But we also recommend that Alabama state policymakers read Louis Bonham’s “DEI Laws Are Meaningless Without Enforcement.” It provides a suite of enforcement mechanisms — and specifies that “accreditors and the individuals acting for them within the state are also prohibited from asking or requiring schools to violate applicable state law (with statutory damages against accreditors and their employees if they do so).”
Yenor’s excellent report makes clear that Alabama’s policymakers should act to remove DEI policies and bureaucracies from Alabama’s system of higher education. HB7/SB247 provides an excellent first step toward this goal, and we believe the different bills in the Civics Alliance’s Model Higher Education Code could inform Alabama policymakers as they seek comprehensive reform of Alabama’s public colleges and universities. Bonham outlines excellent measures to enforce legislation to remove DEI from universities.
Alabama’s public and policymakers can and should join the national campaign to restore America’s proud system of higher education — and when they do, they will have the tools for the job.