GOP seeks to discourage racial theory and aid right-wing speakers

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers are eyeing the University of Wisconsin system, scheduling votes Tuesday on contentious bills that appear destined for a veto but will give the GOP campaign talking points before the elections. november elections

The proposals would discourage the teaching of so-called critical race theory; eliminating legal immunity for campus administrators who interfere with free speech; allow students to trade courses on diversity for a course on the US Constitution; and guaranteeing students reimbursement for accommodation and meals if campuses close.

No groups had registered to support the bills on Friday. Opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union, UW-Madison faculty and the National Association of Social Workers.

Here is an overview of the invoices:

critical race theory

This bill would prohibit leaders of the UW System and Wisconsin Technical College System from authorizing instructors to teach critical race theory, a term for a scientific movement developed in the 1970s that focuses on inheritance of slavery, racism, and discrimination in United States history and modern society.

The Assembly Universities Committee amended the bill in December to remove the ban on teaching the concepts, tweaking language to say instructors cannot force students to ‘affirm, adopt or adhere’ to one of the elements of critical race theory. The amendment imposes a 5% reduction in state aid for any offending institution.

“While it is important that our institutions remain committed to the teaching of history, no student or campus employee should be hated,” said the bill’s lead sponsor in the Assembly, Rep. Rick Gundrum, in written remarks to the Senate Universities Committee this month.

The UW system’s acting vice president for academic relations Jeff Buhrandt countered in his own written remarks that healthy debates about controversial ideas and historical context shouldn’t be limited to the college level.

The bill is tabled Tuesday in the Assembly and the Senate.

The proposal is part of a broader national push by the GOP to block critical teaching of race theory ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Oklahoma and Texas have banned critical race theory concepts from public schools. Kansas lawmakers are considering similar legislation. So are Ohio lawmakers.

Freedom of expression

This proposal would eliminate the legal immunity of administrators of UW and technical colleges who deprive anyone of their freedom of expression. The move would allow people to sue administrators who ban conservative speakers from their campuses.

Republicans have long argued that liberal-leaning colleges discourage or don’t allow speakers with conservative views to appear on campus and allow leftist students to shout them out when they visit.

UW-Madison officials said in written comments that they support free speech. They said the bill is problematic because employees acting in good faith to protect public safety at events could be prosecuted.

The bill must be voted on in both chambers on Tuesday.

Diversity Course

The legislation would allow students in the UW system who are required to take a course on diversity or ethnic studies as part of their general education courses to take a course on the US Constitution instead.

“Forcing students to take courses that look at racial and cultural conflict through one specific lens will not achieve the stated goal,” the measure’s chief Senate sponsor, Duey Stroebel, said in written remarks to the Senate Universities Committee this month. “In contrast, America’s founding documents show the great yearning for equality and opportunity for all, alongside where America fell short of its aspirations.”

UW-Stevens Point Associate Dean for General Education and Honors Shanny Luft submitted written remarks saying the bill would leave students less prepared to work in diverse environments.

Both houses were due to vote on the bill on Tuesday.

Accommodation and meal expenses

The bill would require all UW institutions to reimburse pro-rated room and board costs to students who cannot access campus for more than a week. Being expelled from campus for misconduct would not qualify a student for a return.

UW campuses closed in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country. According to a UW System tax estimate, the schools then reimbursed $62 million in room and board costs to students.

The Assembly was due to vote on the bill on Tuesday. The measure was not on the Senate’s agenda for the day.

Do these bills have a chance?

The measures appear to have a good chance of passing both the Assembly and the Senate. But Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, a former superintendent of public schools who served on the UW board of trustees, will almost certainly veto them all.

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