Kentucky bill would bar ‘divisive concepts’ in college trainings


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Dive Brief:

  • A Kentucky lawmaker introduced a bill last week aimed at curbing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on college campuses, furthering a nationwide conservative push against such programs.
  • The proposed legislation would ban public colleges from promoting “divisive concepts” in mandatory student and employee trainings. The bill’s list of divisive concepts includes that a person of any race or sex is inherently privileged or that the state of Kentucky is fundamentally racist or sexist.
  • If passed, the measure would allow individuals to sue colleges they believe to be in violation for up to $100,000 per infraction. Colleges would also be barred from retaliating against prospective students and employees for refusing to endorse the concepts covered in the legislation.

Dive Insight:

State Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, a Republican, filed the bill on the first day of Kentucky’s new legislative session.

“Instead of promoting intellectual dialogue, individualism, the content of one’s character and merit-based practices, DEI has driven a wedge against those of us who want to see Kentucky achieve greater things,” he said in a statement Thursday.

The proposal would prohibit colleges from including “divisive concepts” in their mandatory trainings, including orientations, seminars, workshops and noncredit classes. The bill notes that the law wouldn’t supersede federal and state laws or accreditation standards.

Free speech advocates have raised concerns over similar bills introduced elsewhere, saying they are so broadly written they could chill any mention of personal identity on campuses.

If enacted, the Kentucky bill would also require college employees in DEI roles to promote intellectual diversity in their work. And public colleges would be required to survey students and employees twice over the next few years on their institutions’ diversity of thought and their comfort with expressing viewpoints on campus. Results would be made public on each college’s website.

The University of Kentucky, the state’s flagship institution, is reviewing the proposal and intends to discuss it further with policymakers, according to spokesperson Jay Blanton.

“We are a campus steadfastly committed to ensuring that we are a place of belonging for everyone as well as a community dedicated to the fundamental academic value and principle of open inquiry and the free exchange of ideas,” Blanton said Tuesday. “Those ideas are not only compatible, but essential, to who we are and what we do as Kentucky’s university.”

The proposal has been referred to the state senate’s education committee.

It could become law if it gains support among Republicans. Though Kentucky has a Democratic governor, the state house’s Republicans carry a veto-proof majority.

Conservative lawmakers across the country are increasingly targeting DEI in education, saying such programs direct students and faculty to think a certain way and stifle their free speech.

The Kentucky bill closely reflects legislation in other Republican-controlled states.

Florida also required its public colleges to administer a survey on “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity,” though only a small percentage of students responded in 2022. In May, the state banned DEI spending at its public colleges altogether.

In Iowa, public colleges are banned from requiring trainings that teach the U.S. or the state is systemically racist or sexist following a bill passed in 2021. And in November, a new law directing the state’s board of regents to review its DEI efforts prompted it to cut all such work not required for legal or accreditation compliance.



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