University of Oklahoma anti-racist workshop violates free speech, nonprofit says

A recent workshop hosted by University of Oklahoma instructors on anti-racism raises a red flag over the state of free speech and potential indoctrination in classrooms at the flagship university of the State, according to a non-profit organization focused on freedom in education.

At a seminar titled “Antiracist Rhetoric and Pedagogy,” three faculty members presented slides on “Systemic Racism” and discussed promoting antiracist environments in the classroom. They also explained how to “subvert the white institutional defense”. But during the April 14 workshop, one of its presenters, Kelli Pyron Alvarez, also claimed that students in a course on the principles of English composition are often “emboldened to be racist, as overtly racist” , she said.

Alvarez went on to explain that teachers should prohibit their students from making statements that could hurt others, including “derogatory remarks, criticism and hate speech of any kind” as well as the use “of ideas. or white supremacist sources “, unless, she said, they are used by” anti-racist crusaders “.

“If they use any of these things, if any of them pops up in their writing or in their comments, I’ll call them about it,” Alvarez explained, without clearly defining the ideas, sources and comments. problematic.

Earlier in the segment, Alvarez noted the reluctance of some instructors to use such harsh measures against student speech, but assured teachers the law was on their side.

“One of the fears is that we’re in trouble for this, right? Like we can’t tell the students that they can’t say something in class. But we can! me tell you how, ”she said. said: “The law is on the side of educators. In the classroom, free speech does not apply.”

“The Supreme Court has in fact confirmed that hate speech, derogatory speech, none of the -isms apply in the classroom because they do not promote a productive learning environment. And so, as instructors, we can say to our students, “No, you don’t have the right to say that. Stop talking now, ”she continued, probably referring to the 1988 court ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, who held that schools can regulate speech, as long as actions taken by administrators “are reasonably related to a legitimate educational interest”.

Students walk on campus between classes at the University of Oklahoma on March 11, 2015 in Norman, Oklahoma.
Brett Deering / Getty

This particular seminar was one of nine professional development workshops for instructors and graduate students held by the state’s flagship university last semester.

The video of the workshop was released to the public on Tuesday after being obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Founded in 1999, FIRE is a nonprofit organization that advocates and supports the individual rights of students and faculty members of U.S. colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of expression, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious freedom and the sanctity of conscience, the essential qualities of freedom.

FIRE denounced the workshop facilitators for what they described as obvious censorship of the students.

“Professors cannot abuse their power to require students to personally endorse a particular point of view or ideology,” said Daniel Burnett and Sabrina Conza of FIRE.

“Instructors have the academic freedom of ‘instruction, not indoctrination,’ as the American Association of University Teachers (AAUP) writes.

“Since this is a workshop meant to teach teachers how to guide class discussions and urge them to guide students on what to argue and what is acceptable to argue , it starts to turn education into indoctrination, ”said FIRE. Executive Director Robert Shibley. “It’s disturbing because it shows a disregard for the rights of students in the classroom.”

At one point in the seminar, the instruction even suggested pointing out to students if such erroneous speech appears in a student’s handwriting or comments after being called out about it.

While News week contacted the university directly and had no response. OU Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Director of Diversity Dr Belinda Higgs Hyppolite responded to FIRE’s report on Wednesday with this statement:

“The University of Oklahoma unequivocally values ​​freedom of speech and diversity from all perspectives. In fact, they are central elements of the university’s strategic plan and central to what makes a great university. OU does not in any way endorse or endorse censorship of its students. OU is a place where students learn how to learn, not what to learn. Every effort is made to ensure that students feel that they belong.

Hyppolite went on to note that the workshop in question is one of many professional development workshops organized by the English Department’s Composition Program and that participation in this workshop is voluntary. She said the topics for the seminar were chosen in response to aspects of teaching that are difficult.

However, Shibley said the OU does not have a good track record when it comes to its mandatory diversity training program for faculty and staff. In the past, they have required participants to acknowledge their agreement with the political views approved by the university in order to fulfill the requirement.

“Here, the cavalier attitude towards the student discourse that ensues is very disturbing as it shows a contempt for the rights of students in the classroom,” said Shibley. “What they are doing is instructing those charged with the instruction to follow the official line of the OU …