The ongoing attacks on higher ed in Kentucky Skip to content

The ongoing attacks on higher ed in Kentucky

Anti-DEI, anti-tenure – they’re all part of a coordinated attack on higher ed by Republicans.

Republicans have plenty of time to pass all three of their anti-Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion bills in the current session of the General Assembly.

So far, only Senate Bill 6 has gained any traction. Aimed at curbing DEI efforts in public higher education, it passed the Senate on a party line vote and is House-bound. The GOP enjoys veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers.

DEI refers to programs addressing Diversity (people from the rainbow of sub-cultures), Equity (fairness, equal opportunity, and justice), and Inclusion (belonging and feeling valued),” wrote Kimberly Kennedy in a must-read Forward Kentucky post. “As I look at each of these concepts, I can’t imagine having a problem with any of them.”

Obviously, she hasn’t swigged the MAGA Kool Aid.

The anti-DEI trinity plus HB 228, which would essentially axe tenure in state universities and community colleges, mirrors a nationwide far-right crusade against what conservatives claim is a far-left bias in higher education. They say that tilt is reflected in professors and DEI programs.

DEI is just the latest GOP bogeyman, said Dr. Brian Clardy, a history professor at Murray State University.

Oh, the Trump faithful still get the vapors over Critical Race Theory and “wokeness.” Even so, it looks like DEI has become the juiciest chunk of red meat on the Trumpian plat du jour. 

“In 2023, the far right introduced at least 65 bills to limit DEI in higher education in 25 states and the U.S. Congress,” says the American Civil Liberties Union. “Eight bills became law. If this assault on our constitutional rights feels familiar, that’s because it is. It was last seen in 2020 when Trump-aligned politicians fought to pass unconstitutional laws aimed at censoring student and faculty speech about race, racism, sex, and sexism. The ACLU challenged these laws in three states, but today, anti-DEI efforts are the new frontier in the fight to end the erasure of marginalized communities.”

When he was president, Trump issued an executive order banning diversity training in the federal government. President Biden repealed it.  

“DEI programs in higher education recognize the fact that historically there has been wide disparity in hiring and retaining and promoting people of color at the administrative, faculty, staff, and student worker levels,” said Clardy, a member of the United Campus Workers of Kentucky.

A diversity website posted by Murray State (my alma mater, class of ’71) says “we value our differences and celebrate diversity. Regardless of your race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, color, creed, national origin, age, disabilities, socio-economic status, life experiences, geographical region, or ancestry, we welcome you to Murray State.”

Said Clardy, “In the past, especially in history and the social sciences, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, LGBTQ people, women, and the poor were mostly left out. With DEI, we make a deliberate effort to include their stories. I’m not talking about hyperbolical, wannabe, wishful-thinking history. I’m talking about real history, real political science, and real sociology.

“We want to make sure students are ready, once they graduate, to face a multicultural, global society. The world is becoming a neighborhood, and so you need to educate students to live successfully in that neighborhood.”

Clardy earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where, in his day, many, if not most, underclassmen took Western Civilization, which is called European History at many other colleges and universities. Such courses were inherently Eurocentric and all but ignored history elsewhere on the globe. 

Clardy teaches World Civilization at MSU. “Yes, I talk about Europe but also civilizations in Africa, Asia, and the Americas,” he said. “I try to make my course as diverse and multicultural as possible.”

He said anti-DEI and anti-tenure bills represent censorship. “I don’t want politicians telling me what I can and cannot teach in my classroom.” Clardy said. “I have a real problem with that.”

Such legislation, he said, will also make it harder for Kentucky’s public universities and community colleges to attract and keep quality faculty. “If I had just gotten my PhD., was looking for a job, and saw that Kentucky had abolished tenure and DEI programs, I’d run as fast as I could the other way.”

In her story, Kennedy debunked four common myths about DEI. In a second story, she looked at “the broader white supremacist conspiracy.” 

Kennedy concluded: “Many conservatives have bought into the anti-DEI rhetoric popularized via conservative media outlets, without realizing its origins in white supremacist ideology.”

On the other hand, many other conservatives do realize that the anti-DEI holy war is rooted in white supremacist ideology – plus sexism, misogyny, nativism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism, Christian nationalism, and anti-intellectualism. They’re all in for all that.

I remember Alabama Gov. George “Segregation now, segregation forever” Wallace, the fountainhead of the MAGA movement, dissing intellectuals like college profs as “pointy-heads who couldn’t ride a bicycle straight.”

Trump has run the most overtly racist presidential campaigns since Wallace’s in the 60s and 70s.  When Trump, the Yankee George Wallace, promised to “Make America Great Again,” he wanted white supremacists to hear “Make America White Again.”

They didn’t disappoint him. In fact, many of them are in the front ranks of the anti-DEI crusade to “Make Higher Ed White Again.”

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY

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