BY HANK REICHMAN
Even as legislators in Iowa and Missouri launched what the AAUP has called “A Concerted Attack on Academic Freedom” by seeking to eliminate tenure at public colleges and universities in those states, another troubling bill was introduced the same day in Arizona. Here is the relevant proposal (emphases added):
Sec. 2. Title 15, chapter 14, article 9, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended by adding section 15-1892, to read:
15-1892. Prohibited courses, classes, events and activities; enforcement; exceptions
A. A university under the jurisdiction of the Arizona board of regents or a community college under the jurisdiction of a community college district shall not include in its program of instruction any courses, classes, events or activities that do any of the following:
1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2. Promote division, resentment or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class or other class of people.
3. Are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group.
4. Advocate solidarity or isolation based on ethnicity, race, religion, gender or social class instead of the treatment of students as individuals.
5. Violate state or federal civil rights laws.
6. Negatively target specific nationalities or countries.
B. If the attorney general determines that a university or community college is in violation of subsection A of this section, the attorney general shall notify the university or community college that it is in violation of subsection A of this section. If the attorney general determines that the university or community college has failed to comply with subsection A of this section within sixty days after a notice has been issued pursuant to this subsection, the attorney general may direct the state treasurer to withhold up to ten percent of the state monies that would otherwise be due the university or community college district. When the attorney general determines that the university or community college is in compliance with subsection A of this section, the state treasurer shall restore the full amount of state funding to the university or community college district.
C. This section does not restrict or prohibit:
1. Courses, classes, events or activities for Native American students that are required to comply with federal law.
2. The grouping of students according to academic performance, including capability in the English language, that may result in a disparate impact by ethnicity.
3. Courses, classes, events or activities that include the accurate history of any ethnic group and that are open to all students, unless the course, class, event or activity violates subsection A of this section.
4. Courses, classes, events or activities that include the discussion of controversial aspects of history acutely.
D. This section does not restrict or prohibit the instruction of the holocaust, any other instance of genocide, or the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on ethnicity, race or class.
If a college disobeys the law, it would have to pay hefty fines, which Republican representative Bob Thorpe proposes should be at least 10% of the aid they receive from the state. The bill, HB2120, is sponsored by Thorpe in the Arizona State Legislature as an addition to a law previously introduced and passed in 2010 that sought to end teaching K-12 subjects that “promote resentment toward another race,” according to the Arizona Daily Star. That legislation is currently being challenged in court. The case is awaiting trial after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in 2015 there is evidence the statute was enacted for discriminatory reasons. Judge Jed Rakoff, writing for the majority, said it appears the law improperly and illegally interferes with the rights of students to get information.
Thorpe told tucson.com that the 2010 law, which targeted “ethnic studies” courses at some public schools, including those at Tucson Unified School District, does not go far enough with its prohibition against teaching anything that promotes resentment toward another race. He wants to expand that list to include gender, religion, political affiliation and social class. Thorpe said his bill is aimed specifically at things like a “privilege walk” exercise sponsored by the University of Arizona and a course entitled “Whiteness and Race Theory” at Arizona State University.
“The gains that were made in the 1960s are now being eroded,” Thorpe said, without even a trace of irony. “We’re now finding ways to divide people and put wedges between people.”
“I’m not saying in my bill these classes cannot occur,” he continued. “What I’m saying is taxpayers should not have to pay for them.” His legislation, however, has no such distinction: State aid would be at risk whether or not public dollars are involved.
Lee Bebout, the ASU associate professor who offers the course Thorpe finds offensive, defended it as a way of addressing aspects of social conflict. “College is exactly the place where students and teachers must work together to confront difficult ideas,” he said, adding that college curricula “should be designed by experts in the field rather than by politicians.”
“All of this is completely and utterly disgusting,” wrote columnist Shaun King in the New York Daily News.
That an aloof lawmaker wants to actually oversee and monitor individual activities and events to prohibit students and staff from discussing economic and skin privilege in this country is not just petty, it’s deeply problematic. What is his aim here?
It appears that Bob Thorpe actually has a bigger problem with students and staff discussing white privilege than he does with the unfair privilege itself. That should disturb all of us. For all of their talk about local rights, it’s deeply telling to see conservative lawmakers go so far as to say what individual dormitory directors and instructors can and cannot discuss with their students. Conservatives like Thorpe are fully willing to be control freaks when it protects white supremacy and cultural hegemony — then say they stand on the principles of local control when it benefits them.
I have a hunch this bill is not an anomaly, but a troubling sign of things to come.
Alas, King is almost certainly correct. These attacks will continue and there is really only one choice available: to fight them tooth and nail in every instance. That is what the AAUP aims to do. If you have not yet done so, please join us. If you are already a member or or not in academia, please consider donating to the AAUP Foundation.