By Josie Shaw
Legislative bans restricting conversations on race, gender and religion in Alabama classrooms have sparked conversations among University of Montevallo faculty. These topics are defined as “divisive concepts” in proposed state legislation, and mentioning them would be banned in K-12 and higher education classroom conversations. Two of the most prominent bills restricting classroom conversations are House Bill 9 and House Bill 312.
House Bill 9 was one of the 3 bills filed into Alabama’s House of Representatives censoring
conversations on race and sex. The most current iteration of a bill confronting “divisive concepts” is HB 312, which was written by Oliver and nearly 40 additional authors. None of these bills have been codified yet.
HB 312 and HB 9 put restrictions around these “divisive concepts” and “race or sex scapegoating”, which The Federal Register defines as such “Race or sex stereotyping means ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex.”
Faculty Senate President Dr. Ray Ozley shared a statement in opposition of HB9 at the last Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 18. The statement was written by the Faculty Senate Executive Governance Committee in defense of “at least two necessary components of the value of our state’s educational systems: academic freedom and student career readiness.” This statement was sent to Gov. Kay Ivey, House Rep. Ed Oliver, and House Chairman Mac Mccutcheon.
Ozley followed these statements up by saying Faculty Senate will continue working on opposing these bills as necessary, especially in relation to education accrediting issues. Trustee Todd R. Strange commented that the board is committed to backing Faculty Senate in opposing this legislation.
HB 9 was previously discussed at the Faculty Senate meeting on Feb. 11. Ozley shared that these bans could negatively impact the university’s accreditation. Many of the school’s accrediting organizations require certain diversity and inclusion measures which would be censored with the passing of this legislation.
Management professor Dr. Eric Travis mentions that Stephens College of Business receives accreditation from a separate organization, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. He voiced his worry that diversity and inclusion measures would be affected, which applies to two thirds of their standards for accreditation.
Dr. Amiee Mellon, the Dean of Stephens College of Business, specified in a later interview that, not only is the AACSB committed to diversity and inclusion, it is an expectation they set for universities. Mellon shared that the college is required to show documentation on “how our mission positively impacts society, business education, the diversity of people and ideas, and the success of graduates.”
The AACSB guidelines state that “the school is expected to demonstrate a commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion issues in the context of the cultural landscape in which it operates.”
In a follow up interview, Dr. Ozley shared, “We [faculty] are generally opposed to efforts to squelch our ability to teach on these matters. We are also opposed to potential restraints on academic freedom.”
UM isn’t the only Alabama higher education institute opposing these restrictions. University of Alabama’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution urging their Board of Trustees and Faculty President to join them in protecting academic freedom. Gov. Ivey currently is the president of UA’s Board of Trustees.