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House committee advances anti-DEI bill

The bill prohibits the promotion of certain “divisive concepts” from being promoted by state entities.

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For the past two sessions, State Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, has sponsored a bill prohibiting the promotion of certain “divisive concepts” from being promoted by state entities.

This year that bill, SB129, originated in the Senate with Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, and shifted to focus on prohibiting public funding of diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

The legislation would prevent teachers or other employees from making other people “affirm, adopt to adhere” to a list of divisive concepts. The “divisive concepts” include “That, by virtue of an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, the individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”

The bill also bans agencies from requiring employees to participate in DEI programs.

After quick passage through the Senate last week, Oliver got his third stab at the bill in House committee on Tuesday, and said that he expects the legislation to be unifying.

“Do you truly, honestly believe that this piece of legislation is going to bring us together?” asked Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, D-Lowndes.

“Absolutely,” Oliver said. “As opposed to the programs that you see in institutions that are teaching kids at the earliest ages that their differences set them apart.”

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“Let me tell you why I think not,” Lawrence responded. “We just had a public hearing here today and you didn’t have one minority that spoke in favor of this piece of legislation. But you think this bill can bring us together?”

The public hearing saw five speakers on each side. Speakers in favor of the legislation included two retired college history professors, the leaders of Eagle Forum and Moms for Liberty, and a the leader of the College Republican Federation of Alabama.

Several students spoke against the bill, including two Black students and an LGBTQ student.

Patrick Harmon, a retired professor from the University of Alabama, said the UA “faculty are terrified” and have asked retired professors to speak out against DEI on their behalf for fear of repercussions.

“They are frightened by this Marxist approach,” Harmon said. “Another faculty member said to me DEI has had a devastating impact on academic freedom and debate at the University of Alabama.”

Harmon referenced alleged incidents including a professor telling a student not to bring their “Christian junk” to the classroom, and a STEM professor telling Harmon he would be denied tenure if he kept a pro-life pencil on his desk.

“She said if this were seen on my desk at the University of Alabama, I would be seen as anti-woman and hence anti-diversity,” Harmon said.

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Retired professor Earl Tillford said DEI programs have “politicized tenure.”

“Tenure usually depends on pedagogy, research in an appropriate field, and service to the university,” Tillford said. “This politicizes the tenure process. You will have to conform and be evaluated on your contributions to DEI.”

Everwood, an out-of-state UA student and queer woman, told lawmakers that she and likely many other out-of-state students would leave if the bill passes.

She said a DEI program saved her from a relationship that she doesn’t think she would have survived.

“They taught me that I have self worth as a human being, regardless of how I identify, regardless of who I’m in love with,” Everwood said. “And I got out of that relationship because they taught me how to set healthy boundaries.”

Dr. Morissa Ladinsky, a UAB professor, said that DEI programs were not created by colleges but rather based on corporate expectations.

“This intentional and institutionalized DEI drives excellence,” Ladinsky said. “Companies that place a heavy focus on DEI efforts outperform competitors by 36 percent on the high bar of profitability.”

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Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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