Though the state has a new law targeting critical race theory, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says the university is "threatening its faculty members' First Amendment rights by warning – incorrectly – that the law requires administrators and faculty to censor class discussions."
So FIRE is calling on ISU to rescind its implementation of House File 802 and to clarify that students and faculty may speak freely about issues of race and gender.
"A statute created by HF802 requires that administrators at the state's public universities and colleges 'ensure that any mandatory staff or student training' does not 'teach, advocate, act upon, or promote' a list of prohibited 'divisive concepts,'" a FIRE press release explains. "These concepts include any belief or theory that ascribes 'character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual's race or sex.'"
By ignoring the law's focus on "training" sessions, FIRE says ISU is telling its faculty that the law requires the university to police regular class instruction, including discussions, course materials, and invited speakers. FIRE adds that ISU has warned its faculty that even relevant material is now off-limits if presented in a class that might in any way be required — or simply hard to avoid — for any single student.
"State laws are subordinate to the First Amendment, which protects the right of faculty members to discuss pedagogically relevant material," said FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh. "No statute can dictate to students and faculty what ideas to debate, materials to read, or speakers to question. But ISU is claiming that the law requires censorship, abdicating its professors' First Amendment rights in the process — especially those faculty members whose teaching concerns issues of race or gender."
FIRE shared its thoughts with ISU in the form of a letter and has requested a response by August 10th.
American Family News also sought comment from ISU and received the following:
FIRE's July 27 letter misconstrues the document Iowa State University leaders provided to the campus community as a resource regarding the newly enacted House File 802. The guidance in this document is intended to help faculty understand and comply with the new law, while also teaching their classes and carrying out the university's academic mission.
Under House File 802, the university cannot "teach, advocate, act upon, or promote" specific defined concepts in "any mandatory staff or student training." The term "mandatory staff or student training" could be interpreted to include circumstances where the specifically defined concepts are taught in mandatory courses where the concepts are not germane to the subject matter of the course.
Respecting and protecting the First Amendment rights of faculty, staff, and students is a core value of Iowa State University. Contrary to FIRE's assertion, First Amendment and academic freedom principles apply to faculty classroom instruction only if the material is germane to the course and taught in an appropriate manner.
Administrators have worked closely with faculty, college deans, and department chairs to offer support and guidance as the university community prepares for the fall semester.
Meanwhile, Heritage Action is hosting a panel event with notable scholars, concerned parents, and experienced professionals who are speaking out against critical race theory.
"This is really an ideology that is meant to divide us," says Lindsey Curnutte, press secretary for Heritage Action. "This is being swept under the rug by a lot of leftist teachers' organizations and unions, and it's something that conservatives really need to stand up against."
The Heritage Action Critical Race Theory Panel Discussion is scheduled to begin at 6:30pm Eastern at Crossroad Community Church in Georgetown, Delaware.
Scheduled speakers include Virginia parents Shawntel Cooper and Joe Mobley, as well as Heritage Foundation policy experts Mike Gonzalez and Jonathan Butcher.
"It's great to have parents really talk about their on the ground experiences about why it's hurting children," Curnutte says.
A live stream of the event is also available.