Frequently Searched

Anti-Bug Bigotry?

The Academically Unserious DEI Mandates of University of Arizona

June 04, 2024

Timothy K. Minella

Senior Constitutionalism Fellow, Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy

Introduction & Executive Summary

More than two thirds of American colleges now force students to take a course on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) as part of their “general education” requirements to graduate.[1] While general education programs were originally intended to help students gain knowledge and skills essential for thoughtful citizenship and successful careers, these new DEI requirements instead promote politically activist ideologies to a captive audience of students, who must complete the programs in order to receive a degree.

Unfortunately, the Grand Canyon State’s “flagship” institution, University of Arizona (UA), has taken this politicized approach in a recent revision of its general education program, which now includes a mandate to take courses with a “Diversity & Equity” (D&E) focus. Through a lengthy public records request process with UA, the Goldwater Institute obtained the syllabi for courses with this D&E focus. This report shows that many of these courses do not merely seek to develop students’ understanding of other cultures, but rather urge students to advance activist political causes while engaging in academically unserious exercises. Moreover, UA requires these politicized courses while failing to implement the Arizona Board of Regents’ directive to educate students on the basics of American history and civics.  

Key Takeaways:

  • The D&E requirement in the UA core curriculum forces students into academically unserious, politicized courses promoting ideological transformation of American society.
  • A course on the science of bugs that fulfills the D&E requirement requires students to experiment with “living like a bug”—including by “walking around with tissue paper ‘wings’” ––in order to understand the experience of immigrants and people of a different social class.
  • Students of this course are likewise directed to “reflect in personal writing assignments on the assumptions that inform popular attitudes towards insects, identifying ways that attitudes of othering interfere with self-identity and foster systems of privilege or oppression/marginalization.”
  • Another D&E course syllabus states that students will learn that “racism is deeply embedded in U.S. history, society, and institutions. … White people hold unearned privilege while people of color have not had equal access to the ‘American Dream.’”
  • Students of this D&E course are explicitly instructed to self-censor in class if others find their views “problematic,” regardless of the merits of their beliefs: “If somebody lets you know something you said is problematic, resist the temptation to become defensive. Instead, apologize, self-reflect, learn, and do better next time.”
  • A course offers extra credit for students completing “ally” training at UA’s LGBTQ center, which urges participants to reject the idea of binary sexes and become activists for LGBTQ causes.
  • UA requires students to take D&E courses while failing to require instruction on American history and civics, a blatant violation of the Arizona Board of Regents’ requirement for universities to adopt rigorous general education instruction in these subjects.
  • To restore the academic integrity of its institutions, the Arizona Board of Regents must adopt the Freedom from Indoctrination Act model policy to protect students and faculty from DEI course mandates and ensure compliance with the regents’ American Institutions requirements.

UA’s ‘General Education Refresh’

    In spring 2022, UA rolled out a “General Education Refresh,” a new core curriculum required of all UA students. This new curriculum requires students to take 32 credit hours, 21 of which (approximately seven courses) must come from courses in the categories of “Exploring Perspectives” and “Building Connections.” To be included in the core curriculum, the courses in these two categories must have at least one “Attribute.” According to UA’s website, “An Attribute is an emphasis on skills, methodologies, and/or contexts that frame course content.” The Attributes are as follows:

    • “Diversity & Equity”
    • “Quantitative Reasoning”
    • “World Cultures & Societies”
    • “Writing”[2]

    As John D. Sailer of the National Association of Scholars has pointed out in his report on UA’s core curriculum, if a course does not focus on quantitative reasoning, world cultures, or writing, then it must focus on the final Attribute of “Diversity & Equity” (D&E) to count for the core curriculum.[3] Starting in fall 2026, all students must take at least two courses with the D&E Attribute.[4]

    What does a course have to do to fulfill the D&E Attribute?

    The ‘Diversity & Equity’ Attribute

    As shown in Figure 1, according to the UA General Education website, the courses with the D&E Attribute should help students to

    • “CENTER one or more marginalized populations in the course content, including, but not limited to: racial/ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQIA+ people, economically marginalized communities, and disabled people.”
    • “EXPLORE the historical developments, causes, and consequences of structured inequality.”
    • “EXAMINE how power, privilege, and positionality shape systems related to the discipline of the course and how knowledge is constructed.”[5]

    Figure 1

    Excerpt from UA General Education website: https://ge.arizona.edu/diversity-and-equity-attribute

    As shown in Figure 2, the “required student learning outcome” for the D&E Attribute reads as follows:

    Students will demonstrate knowledge of how historical and contemporary populations* have experienced inequality, considering diversity, power, and equity through disciplinary perspectives to reflect upon how various communities experience privilege and/or oppression/marginalization and theorize how to create a more equitable society.

    *populations including, but not limited to: people from racial/ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQIA+ people, disabled people, people from marginalized communities and societies, socioeconomically disadvantaged communities and/or people from colonized societies.[6] 

     

    Figure 2

    Excerpt from UA General Education website: https://ge.arizona.edu/diversity-and-equity-attribute

    Few would disagree that college students benefit from learning about different cultures and groups of people. But the D&E Attribute does not attempt to educate students about such diversity. Instead, students should learn about the “privilege” and “oppression/marginalization” of certain groups and “theorize how to create a more equitable society.” In other words, the purpose of studying diverse cultures is not to understand them on their own terms, but rather to prepare for action against supposed inequities. The goal is activism, not understanding.

    The D&E Attribute clearly takes inspiration from ideas related to Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT not only provides a questionable academic framework for understanding race, but it also seeks to transform the legal system and society itself to achieve greater “equity.” As prominent CRT scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic put it in Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, “The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power” (emphases added). And this movement is hostile to the American system of constitutional government. “Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law,” Delgado and Stefancic write.[7] Just as CRT activists seek to dismantle supposedly inequitable social structures, the drafters of the D&E Attribute require students to consider the actions they must take to remedy purported injustices. 

    The obvious agenda of the D&E Attribute takes students away from real education and pushes them into politicized courses. As law professor Jonathan Turley writes, “Advocacy has increasingly displaced academics in higher education. Activism now permeates higher education as social justice becomes the touchstone for many departments.”[8] The D&E Attribute contributes to this politicization because the requirement emphasizes activism over understanding.

    Through a public records request, Goldwater obtained all syllabi for courses that fulfilled the D&E Attribute. An extensive review of these syllabi demonstrates how the D&E Attribute forces students into politicized courses and prompts instructors to design bizarre activities for their courses.

    American Dream or American Nightmare?

    Consider Anthropology 150A1: Race, Ethnicity, and the American Dream, a D&E Attribute course. Despite its generic title, the syllabus for the course shows that the instructor provides an extreme, blinkered account of American society, promoting calls for race-based reparations and pressuring students to self-censor opinions deemed “problematic.” Indeed, rather than explore the complexities of race, ethnicity, and the American Dream, the course presents a one-sided perspective that condemns the United States for its supposedly inherent racism and pushes radical solutions like reparations.

    As shown in Figure 3, according to the syllabus, students learn the following in Unit 2 of the course:

    Racism is deeply embedded in U.S. history, society, and institutions. It is systemic. You’ll learn this unit that racism is a system of advantage, and disadvantage, based on race. White people hold unearned privilege while people of color have not had equal access to the “American Dream.”

    Figure 3

    Excerpt from syllabus for ANTH 150A1: Race, Ethnicity, and the American Dream.

    Students looking for insight into the complex phenomena of race and racism in America will need to search elsewhere. For example, the instructor flatly asserts that “white people hold unearned privilege,” leaving no room for nuance. This assumption of inherent racism continues in Unit 3, where the instructor writes that students will consider the question “How does language use reinforce the association of Americanness with whiteness?”

    The instructor includes a section that lays out the “Class Norms” of the course. As shown in Figure 4, students learn here that they are expected to sit down and be quiet if they say something that someone else deems “problematic”:

    You might mess up when talking about race, despite good intentions. … Doing this work is hard. If somebody lets you know something you said is problematic, resist the temptation to become defensive. Instead, apologize, self-reflect, learn, and do better next time.

    Figure 4

    Excerpt from syllabus for ANTH 150A1: Race, Ethnicity, and the American Dream.

    Strikingly, such guidance is explicitly instructing students to self-censor if any other student deems their perspective nebulously “problematic.” In other words, rather than encouraging a discussion or dialogue around the disputed ideas, students are told to automatically apologize for their statements regardless of their merits.

    Indeed, one senses that the instructor will not welcome the free exchange of ideas that students should expect from a college course.

    The assigned readings for the course also reflect this one-sided perspective. For example, the instructor devotes an entire week to discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article “The Case for Reparations.”[9] The instructor provides no alternate perspective on the syllabus that calls into question the wisdom or feasibility of reparations.

    Figure 5

    Excerpt from syllabus for ANTH 150A1: Race, Ethnicity, and the American Dream.

    This course thus paints a picture of a systemically racist American society that can only be redeemed through radical interventions like reparations and ceaseless activism to raise awareness. The final project for the course reflects this activist mindset. Students must create a website that “[raises] awareness about race/racism and [instigates] critical conversations among fellow university students.” The goal is activism, not understanding.

    Figure 6

    Excerpt from syllabus for ANTH 150A1: Race, Ethnicity, and the American Dream.

    Living Like a Bug

    The D&E Attribute’s requirement that students “theorize how to create a more equitable society” leads to some bizarre decisions in course design. Entomology 160D1 provides an example. Titled “Busy Bees and Fancy Fleas: How Insects Shaped Human History,” the course claims to help students “learn how arthropods [bugs] have shaped human history and cultural diversity, improved our health, wealth, and art, and continue to teach us new ways to understand human nature, sexuality, intelligence, and even how to approach ‘alien’ ideas.”

    Course objectives include the following:

    • “Connect examples of insect-human interactions with structured inequalities that have been experienced by marginalized human populations including but not limited to racial/ethnic minorities, gender and sexuality, socioeconomic status, and disability condition.”
    • “Reflect in personal writing assignments on the assumptions that inform popular attitudes towards insects, identifying ways that attitudes of othering interfere with self-identity and foster systems of privilege or oppression/marginalization.”
    • “Compose written texts that critically analyze and synthesize evidence from multiple disciplinary perspectives to make arguments about the impact of insects on human diversity and equity.”

     

    One gets the impression that this entomology instructor is desperately attempting to align his or her expertise on the science of bugs with UA’s diversity cause. Even professors in the natural sciences must pay homage to the D&E agenda. This need to pander to the activist program shapes the design of “Living Like a Bug,” one of the course’s notable assignments purporting to help students understand the lives of marginalized groups.

    To complete the “Living Like a Bug” assignment, students are required to 1) don “tissue paper ‘wings’” and walk around, 2) disable one of their senses, and 3) change one of their lifelong habits. After taking photos of these activities, students are then instructed to write a paper discussing “what was challenging, what was unexpected, how your behavior changed in new settings. What insights did these activities give you into the lives of people with disabilities, or immigrants, or from a different social class than you?” The assignment description on the syllabus does not explain how “living like a bug” will help students to understand the experience of immigrants or people from a different social class.

    Figure 7

    Excerpt from syllabus for ENTO 160D1: Busy Bees and Fancy Fleas: How Insects Shaped Human History.

    Extra Credit for “Ally” Training

    In keeping with the activist approach of D&E Attribute courses, one course titled “Constructions of Gender” offers extra credit for students completing a “Safe Zone Training” run by the LGBTQ center on campus. This training aims “to shift campus climate through education.” The “General Education Workshop,” the introductory part of the training program, is required for all students in the course. According to a UA webpage, “Workshop participants will be introduced to definitions related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and other important terminology; will learn about how to move away from thinking of identity as binary and to a continua model; will hear students at the University of Arizona identify issues they encounter on campus; and will be asked to reflect on their own identities.”[10]

    Unfortunately, such efforts to replace scientific observation—such as a binary of two biological sexes—with subjective “identities” not only echoes the hijacking of more serious scientific course content as described above. It also echoes politically activist efforts reported in other dogmatically progressive institutions losing both public confidence and membership. Indeed, as National Public Radio Senior Editor Uri Berliner recently wrote in “I’ve Been at NPR for 25 Years. Here’s How We Lost America’s Trust,” the taxpayer-funded radio station has likewise hemorrhaged credibility on account of such activism. As Berliner notes, “In a document called NPR Transgender Coverage Guidance—disseminated by news management—we’re asked to avoid the term biological sex,” embracing instead a “mindset [that] animates bizarre stories” such as “how The Beatles and bird names are racially problematic.” Indeed, whether at NPR or UA, such efforts are evidently infusing politically radical thinking into even the most innocuous fields of study, including birds and insects.[11]

    Further, a follow-up training session, titled “Ally Development Workshop,” may be completed by UA students for extra credit in the course. In the Ally Development Workshop, “participants will be introduced to concepts of identity and privilege to help explain how being an ally can be complicated work. Participants will be able to engage with student panel videos where issues specific to campus are shared and come up with ways in which they can create tangible change in their roles on campus. Finally, participants will be asked to reflect on their own identities and ideas of what allyship means.”[12] These descriptions make clear that the training goes beyond basic principles of nondiscrimination and actively encourages participants to become activists for LGBTQ issues.

    Figure 9

    Excerpt from syllabus for SOC/GWS 459: Constructions of Gender.

    UA Defies Regents, Fails to Educate Students for American Citizenship

    It is troubling enough that UA requires students to take D&E courses with a clear activist agenda. To make matters worse, UA fails to educate students in the basics of American citizenship. The new general education curriculum does not include any requirement to take any course on American history, American government, or the principles of the Constitution. UA’s failure to include these subjects in the core curriculum blatantly defies the express mandate of the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR), the governing body for all three public universities in Arizona. Administrators at UA chose to disregard the clear intentions of ABOR while facetiously claiming that the whole core curriculum covered the American Institutions requirement.

    In 2019, ABOR required all three public universities in Arizona to include the study of “American Institutions” in their general education programs. As revised in 2021, the policy states

    The study of American Institutions will include at minimum (I) how the history of the United States continues to shape the present; (II) the basic principles of American constitutional democracy and how they are applied under a republican form of government; (III) the United States Constitution and major American constitutional debates and developments; (IV) the essential founding documents and how they have shaped the nature and functions of American Institutions of self-governance; (V) landmark Supreme Court cases that have shaped law and society; (VI) the civic actions necessary for effective citizenship and civic participation in a self-governing society—for example civil dialog and civil disagreement; and (VII) basic economic knowledge to critically assess public policy options and to inform professional and personal decisions.[13]

    UA faculty expressed opposition to teaching students these basic concepts in American citizenship.[14]

    When UA released the General Education Refresh in early 2022, the core curriculum included no course requirements in American Institutions. Instead, UA dubiously claimed and continues to assert that the entire curriculum covers ABOR’s specific requirements in American Institutions. UA also makes the risible suggestion that a “First Year Civics Assessment” will help students to develop knowledge in American Institutions:

    In addition to a robust offering of GE [general education] courses designed to engage students in meaningful learning experiences including politics, histories, and debates necessary for civic engagement, we will design a self-assessment for incoming students to reflect on what they know already about US history and government, using the content areas from the ABOR GE policy. The Civics Assessment will also identify students’ interests while pinpointing areas of needed growth. The results of the assessment will include recommended Gen Ed courses to fulfill the requirements in Exploring Perspectives and Building Connections that also cover areas of need in the students’ civic knowledge. The assessment will also identify co-curricular opportunities related to civic engagement that align with their interests, fostering student autonomy and agency in their academic pursuits.[15]

    As John D. Sailer writes in his analysis of UA’s core curriculum, “ABOR provided a lengthy list of qualities that should belong in a course devoted to American Institutions. UA effectively has ignored that requirement. What the university has done instead is to create even more extensive DEI requirements in its general education curriculum.”[16] In lieu of providing students with rigorous coursework that covers basic knowledge of American civics, UA chose to give students an “assessment” that merely makes suggestions of courses they might want to take and extracurricular activities they might want to pursue. In contrast, starting in 2026, students must take at least two courses with the D&E Attribute. This makes an absolute mockery of the clear directives from ABOR.

    The General Education Refresh shows that leaders at UA believe it is more important for students to receive lectures in progressive activism than to gain basic knowledge of American history and civics. Students could graduate having “lived like a bug,” but without learning about the Constitution, the Civil War, or landmark Supreme Court cases.

    Recommendations

    Once the premier public university of the state, University of Arizona now dramatically fails its students and faculty, promoting academically unserious coursework through its mandatory D&E course attributes while defying the Arizona Board of Regents’ (ABOR) decree to ensure robust education in American civics.

    It is essential that Arizona’s regents reassert control over the institution to correct these deficiencies, or else cede this responsibility to state lawmakers to ensure the proper stewardship of taxpayer resources and the academic integrity of the university.

    Already at the direction of state law, Arizona’s universities operate under the protections of the Goldwater Institute-developed Campus Free Speech Act to protect student and faculty speech rights.[17] Now the regents or state lawmakers must adopt the companion policies of the Freedom from Indoctrination Act.[18]

    Jointly released by Speech First and the Goldwater Institute, the Freedom from Indoctrination Act  model policy ensures no student is forced to take courses promoting DEI concepts that pressure scholars or students to contort their syllabi or class schedules to accommodate politically activist, academically unserious content as a condition of instruction or graduation.

    This model policy prohibits universities from coercing students to take a course promoting DEI concepts as a general education requirement or a major requirement. Such provisions would ensure that students at Arizona’s other universities are also protected from similarly outlandish course requirements, including those of Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism—which a Goldwater Institute report disclosed requires students to draft a public relations plan for nonbinary pop stars.[19]

    The model policy also ensures academic freedom by preventing the university from requiring faculty to include DEI content in their courses. The policy clearly defines DEI content as that which relates certain concepts to contemporary American society, such as microaggressions, gender identity, and intersectionality.

    At the same time, the Freedom from Indoctrination Act protects academic freedom, allowing faculty to teach their courses as they see fit, subject to general university and department requirements. The model policy places responsibility on academic administrators to ensure that students can progress through the university without taking DEI courses.

    The model policy makes clear that it does not limit in any way instruction on historical instances of discrimination, including slavery in America, the civil rights movement, and the Holocaust. Studies of contemporary fads including “white fragility” and “preferred pronouns,” on the other hand, could no longer be forced upon students or faculty.

    The Freedom from Indoctrination Act can restore the academic integrity of Arizona’s public universities, ensuring that the next generation of scientists, engineers, and civic leaders receive a foundational education rooted in scholarship, not tissue paper-winged roleplaying. If University of Arizona is to retain or restore its status as an academically serious institution of higher learning—operating in accordance with ABOR expectations—it is essential that the regents adopt and implement these commonsense reforms.

    End Notes

    [1] “No Graduation Without Indoctrination: The DEI Course Mandate,” Speech First, April 2024, https://speechfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/Speech_First_DEI_Report.pdf.

    [2] Curriculum At-A-Glance, University of Arizona, accessed April 1, 2024, https://ge.arizona.edu/curriculum/glance.

    [3] John D. Sailer, “Educating for Citizenship: The Arizona Case Study,” National Association of Scholars, May 16, 2022, https://www.nas.org/reports/educating-for-citizenship-the-arizona-case-study/full-report.

    [4] General Education Attributes, Course Catalog, University of Arizona, accessed April 1, 2024, https://catalog.arizona.edu/policy/program-graduation/general-education/attributes.

    [5] Diversity and Equity Attribute, University of Arizona, accessed April 1, 2024, https://ge.arizona.edu/diversity-and-equity-attribute.

    [6] Diversity and Equity Attribute.

    [7] Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: NYU Press, 2017), 3.

    [8] Jonathan Turley, “Activism Over Academics: The Decline of U.S. Higher
    Education,” The Hill, October 28, 2023, https://thehill.com/opinion/education/4279381-activism-over-academics-the-decline-of-us-higher-education/.

    [9] Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” The Atlantic, June 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/.

    [10] SafeZone Training, University of Arizona, accessed April 4, 2024, https://libguides.library.arizona.edu/c.php?g=915823&p=6599406.

    [11] Uri Berliner, “I’ve Been at NPR for 25 Years. Here’s How We Lost America’s Trust,” The Free Press, April 9, 2024, https://www.thefp.com/p/npr-editor-how-npr-lost-americas-trust.

    [12] SafeZone Training, University of Arizona, accessed April 4, 2024, https://libguides.library.arizona.edu/c.php?g=915823&p=6599406. The LGBTQ Affairs office has rebranded this training to remove the “Safe Zone” term. See: Solidarity Coalition, University of Arizona, accessed April 4, 2024, https://lgbtq.arizona.edu/safe-zone.

    [13] Policy 2-210: General Education, Arizona Board of Regents, February 2021, https://public.powerdms.com/ABOR/documents/1491655.

    [14] Logan Godfrey, “New ‘American Institutions’ Requirement at UA Raises Concerns,” Tucson.com, December 26, 2022, https://tucson.com/new-american-institutions-requirement-at-ua-raises-concerns/article_a9250272-8219-11ed-a06a-c7bda3c1302c.html.

    [15] Mission, Vision, & Outcomes, University of Arizona, accessed April 5, 2024, https://ge.arizona.edu/curriculum/mission-vision-outcomes.

    [16] Sailer, “Educating for Citizenship.”

    [17] Stanley Kurtz, “Arizona Passes Goldwater-Based Campus Free Speech Law,” National Review, May 7, 2018, https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/campus-free-speech-law-arizona-passes-public-universities.

    [18] Freedom from Indoctrination Act, Goldwater Institute & Speech First, https://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/Freedom_From_Indoctrination_Act_Model_Policy_2023_3_3161.pdf.

    [19] Timothy Minella, “Do Journalism Students Need a Course on Nonbinary Pop Stars?,” Goldwater Institute, March 18, 2024, https://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/policy-report/do-journalism-students-need-a-course-on-nonbinary-pop-stars.

    Donate Now

    Help all Americans live freer, happier lives. Join the Goldwater Institute as we defend and strengthen freedom in all 50 states.

    Donate Now

    Since 1988, the Goldwater Institute has been in the liberty business — defending and promoting freedom, and achieving more than 400 victories in all 50 states. Donate today to help support our mission.

    We Protect Your Rights

    Our attorneys defend individual rights and protect those who cannot protect themselves.

    Need Help? Submit a case.

    Get Connected to Goldwater

    Sign up for the latest news, event updates, and more.