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DEI Disrupted: Goldwater Takes Vision for Education Freedom to Oklahoma

October 31, 2023

Educational freedom is a cornerstone of a thriving society, enabling individuals to explore diverse viewpoints and contribute to the marketplace of ideas while nurturing critical thinking. However, this freedom faces a new challenge in higher education: the pervasive influence of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), a toxic, race-based ideology that falsely claims America is a structurally racist nation.

But the Goldwater Institute is spearheading the fight to restore true academic freedom in states around the country.

Earlier this month, the Goldwater Institute, along with the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, the Manhattan Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, offered solutions to dismantle DEI in Oklahoma’s higher education system at a Senate Education Committee hearing.

“Nothing has a greater impact on the students than the substance of the instruction that is given to them,” Goldwater Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg told lawmakers at the hearing. “Unfortunately, proponents of DEI are also aware of this, and they have aggressively forced DEI into curricular programming.”

Beienburg went on to present the Goldwater Institute’s suite of reforms to defeat DEI, preserve educational freedom, and foster free expression in Oklahoma higher education.

Goldwater’s first proposal, “Abolish DEI Bureaucracies,” which the Institute passed earlier this year in Texas, addresses the institutional mechanisms upholding DEI in public higher ed. This legislation focuses on structural changes, including the elimination of DEI administrator positions and the prohibition of mandatory DEI training sessions. It also prevents public universities from requiring job applicants to pledge fealty to progressivism by submitting mandatory “diversity statements,” and prohibits racial discrimination, often masked under the guise of “affirmative action,” in hiring and admissions.

Goldwater’s “Freedom from Indoctrination Act” focuses on content and curriculum. This reform prohibits public universities from requiring DEI coursework for students. It also safeguards faculty at those schools from being pressured to infuse DEI into their courses or diversify their syllabi and reading lists based on race- or gender-based quotas. Additionally, it ensures that freshman orientation programming upholds principles of free speech and adds instruction in American institutions to general education requirements at government-run universities. Currently, Oklahoma State University requires students to complete a diversity course as a graduation requirement, and the University of Oklahoma pushes professors to “diversify” their syllabi.

Goldwater’s third legislative solution dismantles the campus thought police by eliminating public university-operated bias reporting systems that encourage students and staff to report peers for politically incorrect or “biased” speech. Both Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma operate bias reporting systems. Eliminating these toxic systems would encourage open discourse without fear of cancel culture and unfair repercussions.

Lastly, Goldwater’s “Campus Free Speech Act,” which is now law in five states, reaffirms the First Amendment and requires state-run universities to uphold its principles. It prohibits public university speech codes that limit speech protected by the First Amendment, prevents administrators from censoring or disinviting speakers, and establishes disciplinary policies for those who interfere with free speech. It also requires public universities to adopt policies affirming the importance of free speech and institutional neutrality on political controversies.

But DEI is not confined to higher education alone. It has permeated K-12 schools as well. Former California public school teacher Kali Fontanilla, who taught English as a second language, was shocked to discover lessons form a mandatory “ethnic studies” class that made students analyze and differentiate themselves from their classmates based on gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. “Just about every single lesson had some element of Critical Race Theory in it,” Kali said of CRT, an ideology closely linked to DEI.

Kali’s experience is not an isolated occurrence. Many public schools shove their leftist stances on controversial political issues down students’ throats. Teachers unions openly advocate for CRT. Making matters worse, resources like the Zinn Education Project and the 1619 Project have made their way into classrooms across the country, propagating content related to racial and climate “justice.”

As Beienburg explained, that’s why we need Goldwater’s Academic Transparency Act. This legislation would require public schools to list online all materials being used, whether core or supplemental, ensuring full disclosure of the content being taught. Parental knowledge of curriculum and supplemental resources is an essential element to effective school choice policies. A parent who is weighing their family’s schooling options cannot make a truly informed decision without knowledge of classroom curriculum and materials. Not only does this reform provide parents with information about what their children are learning, but it also makes it easier for teachers to access resources used by the most effective educators in their state. West Virginia and Florida have passed versions of the Academic Transparency Act, and several state legislatures will consider the reform in the upcoming legislative session.

In addressing the spread of DEI, the Goldwater Institute has not only illuminated the issue but also presented practical and innovative solutions. Goldwater’s proposals, ranging from structural reforms to content-focused legislation, underscore our commitment to preserving quality education and free expression in American schools. Our work embodies the belief that educational freedom is vital to the flourishing of a vibrant society.

The Goldwater Institute would like to thank Oklahoma State Senator Rob Standridge for organizing the study committee and pushing back against DEI in Oklahoma’s higher education system.

Cameron Teel is a Ronald Reagan Fellow at the Goldwater Institute.



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