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Arizona State University professor details lawsuit over ‘racist’ DEI training: ‘Compelled speech’

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An Arizona State University (ASU) professor, who is suing the university over what he believes to be a “racist” mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) course for faculty, spoke with Fox News Digital about his decision to bring legal action against his employer. 

Dr. Owen Anderson, a professor of philosophy, religious studies and theology at ASU, is suing the school with the help of the conservative nonprofit the Goldwater Institute, claiming it is in violation of a two-year-old state law that forbids public agencies from requiring employees to engage in training that presents any form of “blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.”

Anderson has been teaching at ASU for 21 years and is still employed at the university, but in November 2022, he was sent an email about the required “Inclusive Communities” course and was given a date he had to finish it by. 

“I looked at the material, and it was very objectionable,” he told Fox News Digital. “What I mean by that is, it’s not just multiculturalism. I think it makes a lot of sense for a workplace like ASU to have an employee training about how to work with other people who disagree with you or people from different backgrounds. That makes a lot of sense because it’s a big place, and we need to know how to work together.”

ASU professor Owen Anderson (Owen Anderson)

“But, this was specifically about dividing people into races and then placing blame on them depending on their skin color and that’s a direct violation of an Arizona law, and I think it’s also the essence of racism,” he added. 

Anderson could face discipline from his superiors for refusing to participate in the DEI training, according to a press release from the Goldwater Institute

The complaint alleges the training discriminates by “compelling the speech of public employees by requiring faculty and staff to take an examination following a training that presents forms of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex, and answer with Arizona State University’s ‘correct’ answers, in violation of the Arizona Constitution.”

The training, titled “ASU Inclusive Communities,” teaches faculty and staff that “white supremacy [is] normalized in society,” “Sexual identities are linked to power, and heterosexuality, the dominant sexual identity in American culture, is privileged by going largely unquestioned,” and “seemingly innocuous questions and comments” like asking people where they’re from or commenting on their hair, can be deemed “racist,” according to the complaint. 

The course also discuses how to “critique whiteness” and other topics like “white privilege”; “white fragility”; and the need for “transformative justice.”

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Following the training, faculty are reportedly required to take a test and if they fail to provide what ASU deems to be the “right” answers, they’ll be reported to their supervising dean.

Anderson said an important part of his objection to the course are the mandatory quizzes that “require you to put down an answer that implies you agree with the content.” He said one question asked, “Which area of the university should DEI influence?” with four possibilities, the correct answer being “All areas of the university.”

Owen Anderson

Dr. Owen Anderson on PragerU (Owen Anderson)

“So to pass that quiz, you have to agree that DEI should impact all areas of university and I don’t agree with that, so that also counts as compelled speech,” he said. “Employers can’t make their employees say things they don’t agree with, so those are the reasons I said this is beyond the kinds of leftism that I’ve seen in the past, this is now getting into breaking state law.”

Anderson said he feels it is important that he speaks out against this training because he is “opposed to any kind of racism.”

“I agree with Martin Luther King, Jr. that we should not judge people based on their skin color or their race and so, when I’m required to take a test that is blaming people for their race, that violates my conscience,” he said. “I had to say, ‘I’m not going to be able to take that class and that’s not something that should be offered with state money.'”

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“People are starting to see it [DEI] for what it is,” he added. “Because, I think an important thing for readers to understand is that this is not multiculturalism. This is not teaching people how to get along with each other at work. All that is great. This is blaming people for their race, specifically for their skin color, and that’s racism.”

An ASU spokesperson told Fox News Digital that it aims to be consistent with state law, A.R.S 14-1494, and provide its employees with Inclusive Communities training that “promotes an environment of respect for all backgrounds, beliefs, and life experiences.” 

“The lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute regarding diversity at Arizona State University is false and without merit,” the ASU spokesperson added. 

“ASU trains all faculty on its charter commitment to inclusiveness and the success of students from all walks of life,” the spokesperson said. “The Goldwater Institute suit misleads the court and misrepresents both the content and requirements of this training to make an argument that represents a political perspective but is not based on the law. ASU’s commitment to providing a supportive and welcoming educational environment for students of all backgrounds will continue and the university will respond appropriately to the Institute’s tactic.”

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Arizona State University logo (AP Newsroom)

Anderson said that he agrees 100% with ASU’s charter that aims to foster an inclusive work environment, “but that people can read the Goldwater Institute’s filings for themselves and in that claim … I think people will see it goes way beyond ASU’s charter into blaming people for their race.”

Anderson also highlighted that the “idea of a state university” is a relevant factor to consider because it “provides parents and students with an affordable university education.” 

“It’s very important to make sure the state university stays neutral ideologically and politically, and that’s another important issue going on here, is that if a state university is pushing one political idea, then they’re not really serving their whole community,” he added. 

In August, the Arizona university system, which includes ASU, announced it would no longer require diversity, equity and inclusion statements in its hiring practices. 

Fox News Digital previously reported that up to 80% of faculty job postings at Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University required applicants to pledge support to equity and inclusion efforts through “diversity statements,” according to a Goldwater Institute report. 

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These requirements sometimes asked applicants to replace the traditional cover letter with a DEI statement, which forced candidates to provide “up to two full pages detailing their activism or commitment to the DEI regime.”

Arizona joined Texas, Missouri and North Carolina, which have all ditched mandatory DEI statements in recent years. 

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