April 4, 2024

Steve Nuzum: Another Crusade Against “Diversity” in Education

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Steve Nuzum notes that South Carolina is on its way to banning… something.

Last week, the South Carolina House passed the anti- “diversity, equity, and inclusion” bill H. 4289 to second reading. (Update: it was subsequently sent to the Senate.)

But the bill never defines what it is banning, and proponents seemed unable to agree on exactly what it is supposed to accomplish.

Based on multiple comments by legislators throughout the meeting, H. 4289 seems to have been shaped heavily by South Carolina “Freedom Caucus” members Adam Morgan and Josiah Magnuson, along with Rep. Tim McGinnis. Its language hews close to a few paragraphs in Section 2 of a model bill from the far-right Manhattan Institute, entitled “Abolish DEI Bureaucracies and Restore Colorblind Equality in Public Universities,” which, according to the endnotes, was “developed in close cooperation with the National Association of Scholars,” another far-right organization, and the source of much of South Carolina’s previous censorship legislation. (I wrote about this in more detail here.) Like many of NAS’ and Heritage Foundation’s model bills attacking “CRT,” this one starts with a reasonable premise— viewpoint discrimination is bad— and then undermines it severely by attacking a specific viewpoint (in this case, “diversity, equity and inclusion”).

Significantly, the South Carolina authors have forgone almost all language from that model bill which would have defined the central terms (like “diversity, equity, and inclusion”) or limited the application of the law to specific kinds of behavior.

What did proponents say the bill was supposed to do?

Was the purpose to limit classroom instruction? When Representative Jermaine Johnson (Richland), an adjunct professor at Webster University, introduced amendment language that addressed classroom instruction, Republican members said the bill had nothing to do with classroom instruction. For example, Amendment 61 would have added, in language that closely echoes the model bill, “Nothing in this section may be construed to limit or prohibit or create any specific requirements concerning classroom instruction.”

In one of only a handful of times supporters of the bill actually engaged with any of the amendments—instead of quickly moving to table them (sometimes before they could even be read)— Rep. Magnuson claimed, “The bill was crafted such that it would not affect what can and cannot be taught.”

Representative Johnson, perhaps knowing the origins of the bill language, replied that the “very genesis of why this bill is being crafted” was the far-right claim that “professors… are trying to indoctrinate students”. One particularly outlandish statement included in the model bill: “So-called Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) bureaucracies at public universities operate as divisive ideological commissariats, promulgating and enforcing Critical Race Theory and related political orthodoxies as official campus policy.” And in his own defense of the bill, Magnuson highlighted the reporting requirements— universities must report the costs of “programs that support diversity, equity, and inclusion,” but the bill doesn’t ever say what those programs might be or look like. This is obviously likely (and probably intended) to make universities very nervous about tiptoeing around these (still undefined) forbidden DEI policies.

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