California college professors sue over DEI mandates

California community college professors are seeking to invalidate new requirements to include concepts related to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” in their course content, insisting that they are being forced to teach politicized viewpoints they disagree with.  

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, formerly known as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, filed a lawsuit on behalf of six professors at three Fresno-area community colleges Thursday. The professors claim that state regulation requiring the teaching of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” violate their rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

FIRE reports that more than 54,000 California community college professors are subject to requirements mandating them to incorporate “anti-racist” viewpoints into their lessons. The legal group contends that faculty performance and tenure will be evaluated based on professors’ promotion of the government’s viewpoints. 

Plaintiffs James Druley, David Richardson, Linda de Morales and Loren Palsgaard teach at Madera Community College. Meanwhile, plaintiff Bill Blanken teaches at Reedley College and plaintiff Michael Stannard works at Clovis Community College. 

The defendants named in the lawsuit are State Chancellor of California Community Colleges Sonya Christian, the members of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, Chancellor of State Center Community College District Carole Goldsmith and the Board of Trustees of the State Center Community College District. 

“These regulations are a totalitarian triple-whammy,” said FIRE attorney Daniel Ortner in a statement. “The government is forcing professors to teach and preach a politicized viewpoint they do not share, imposing incomprehensible guidelines, and threatening to punish professors when they cross an arbitrary, indiscernible line.” 

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California Fresno Division, contains a lengthy appendix outlining the amendments to “Title 5 of the California Code Regulations, to Include Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion standards in the Evaluation and Tenure Review of District Employees.” 

Specifically, Title 5 states, “The evaluation of district employees must include consideration of an employee’s demonstrated, or progress toward, proficiency in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility DEIA-related competencies that enable work with diverse communities.”

“Faculty members shall employ teaching, learning, and professional practices that reflect DEIA and anti-racist principles, and in particular, respect for, and acknowledgment, of the diverse backgrounds of students and colleagues to improve equitable student outcomes and course completion,” the amended regulations proclaim.

In a statement, Blanken questioned how he could incorporate “anti-racist principles” into his classroom instruction as a “professor of chemistry,” asking, “What’s the ‘anti-racist’ perspective on the atomic mass of Boron?”

To comply with additional requirements by the new guidelines, professors must “promote and incorporate culturally affirming DEIA and anti-racist principles to nurture and create a respectful, inclusive, and equitable learning and work environment.” The guidelines also order professors to “respect and acknowledge the diversity of students and colleagues.” 

In addition, the appendix provides a link to a “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Glossary of Terms” designed to “serve as a reference guide of DEI terms that are critical to our shared understanding for the need to advance efforts to address systemic racism in our system.” The glossary describes the aspiration for “color-blindness” as an idea that “perpetuates existing racial inequities and denies systemic racism.”

The glossary’s definition of “Merit” condemns the “concept that at face value appears to be a neutral measure of academic achievement and qualifications” as “embedded in the ideology of Whiteness.” It contends that merit “upholds race-based structural inequality” and “protects White privilege under the guise of standards.” 

Additionally, the complaint elaborates on how the new guidelines will impact the plaintiffs’ academic freedom, noting that they are all being evaluated based on their inclusion of DEIA concepts in their classrooms as of Aug. 7, 2023.

“Because of the DEIA Rules and the Faculty Contract, Druley will avoid voicing his opinions on controversial DEIA topics, use vague and indeterminate language, walk on eggshells when discussing race, and may feel compelled to avoid assigning controversial or challenging readings about race,” it maintains.

“Stannard believes that the use of ‘culturally affirming language’ that speaks to people differently based on their race or ethnicity is patronizing, offensive, and isolates students based on race or ethnicity. He will not use it,” the lawsuit added. “The principles of anti-racism embedded in the DEIA Rules violate de Morales’s deeply held moral and religious beliefs regarding the need to treat everyone equally in a color-blind manner.” 

All of the plaintiffs worry that they will face professional repercussions because they do not want to incorporate principles of DEIA into their classroom instruction. 

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare that “the provisions of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations added or amended by the DEIA Rules” as well as the “provisions of the Faculty Contract implementing the DEIA Rules” are “facially unconstitutional.” The plaintiffs ask the judge to prevent the defendants from enforcing the rules.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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