The Iowa State Faculty Senate had the first reading on a motion to rescind an amendment made by the Executive Board over the summer to alter the number of required objectives within the U.S. Diversity curriculum requirement.
During the Senate's monthly meeting Tuesday, faculty members deliberated on whether or not the amendments made still uphold the intent of the requirements and if the executive decision to amend requirements followed due process.
"This motion to rescind, I would like to say, would harm every senator in this room, every faculty member and every student on campus," said Faculty Senate President Andrea Wheeler, an associate professor in the architecture department.
Secretary of the Faculty Senate Annmarie Butler, professor in the philosophy and religious studies department, motioned to rescind the amendment, which only requires students to meet three out of the four objectives to graduate. The original curriculum approved by the Senate required all four of the requirements be met.
The requirements included on the proposed guidelines include:
- Identifying the experiences and contributions of marginalized or underrepresented groups and their impact on American History.
- Understanding the analytical concept of race, culture, ethnicity, gender and or religion.
- Analyzing the impacts of systemic oppression and personal prejudice.
- Evaluating key aspects of diversity, equity and inclusivity so students can work and collaborate with others in the current context of the U.S.
As part of Iowa State University's goals to prepare students to work in culturally diverse professional settings, students must fulfill the U.S. Diversity and International Perspective requirement. In May, the Faculty Senate approved updated requirements for U.S. Diversity, which would have included four new learning objectives expected from students to graduate.
But lingering in the background of the Senate's progress on the requirements was HF802. During the spring semester, the Iowa legislature passed a bill that outlines "define concepts" that are prohibited in mandatory diversity training implemented by public entities. HF802 is similar to the executive order passed under the Trump administration, which banned "divisive concepts" from diversity training.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed HF802 into law in June; as a result, the Iowa State provost declined to sign the new diversity requirements because of possible legal conflicts relating to the mandatory training.
Faculty Senate Executive Board met with University administrators over the summer to negotiate how the requirements could still be implemented considering the possible legal constraints. They settled on an amendment to only require three out of the four objectives, something the Senate voted against when crafting the requirements.
Wheeler said the three out of four objectives allow for student choice while still maintaining the Senate's requested objectives and eliminating concerns of violating HF802.
"If the rescind or any other incidentally motion to declare a void were successful, the university and the student body would likely be left with the old U.S. diversity requirement that has been in place since the 1990s, because there will be no signing at all," Wheeler said. "Rescinding to four objectives will likely result in an unsigned un-actionable document, so no implement."
The executive board manages relations between the Senate and University administration when the Faculty Senate is in and out of session. Faculty Senate bylaws state the executive board can act for the Senate when it is not in session and report such actions at the next meeting. Wheeler said the executive board did not vote to undo the Faculty Senates' decision but instead received new information and acted on their duty.
"Faculty can rescind the actions of the executive board, but there are negative impacts," Wheeler said. "There is always a need for improvement, the EB (executive board) decision is not perfection, but it is progress. The improvement to the U.S diversity requirements is about building a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion. It is about progress and not politics."
Wheeler said heightened concerns around diversity requirements in the media and from the Iowa legislature were additive factors for crafting the amendment. Some faculty members questioned whether the university should be basing curriculum on outside controversies.
"Are we really making policy because people are tweeting about it, or there is negative controversy on social media?" Lucken Professor David Peterson of the political science department said. "Is that what we are doing? I mean I don't have much more of a question other than jaw-dropping astonishment that we are making curricular decisions at least in part because of what is being done on social media, and that is just astounding to me."
During the Tuesday meeting, Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert reaffirmed the university's legal concerns with the requirements while highlighting that there are also implementation concerns.
"On the advice of Counsel, we have concerns about four out of four conflicting with the mandatory training part of that, and I take advice of Counsel very seriously, as does the president," Wickert said.
Sen. for Kinesiology Ann Smiley said she supported the Executive Board's decision to move forward with the compromise.
"Our goal, I think, as educators, through this U.S. diversity requirement is for our students to honor and respect each other," Smiley said. "To understand each other's cultures, each other backgrounds and these learning outcomes do that, and that can be done with three out of four."
Because the Senate rejected the concept three out of four requirements during the April and May meeting, other faculty members took greater issue with the procedure of the amendment. The Faculty Senate's bylaws state the Executive Board is subject to the decisions of the Senate, and none of the decisions made can conflict with those of the Senate.
"To me they literally did the one thing they can't do which is pass something we voted down twice," Peterson said.
Governance Council Chairman Steve Freeman, a university professor in the agricultural and biosystems engineering department, said the executive board was within their realm of power to negotiate with the administration to make progress.
"In this particular case, we won," Freeman said. "If we look at our current diversity outcomes, the students have been asking us for about a decade to make some positive changes. All four of the learning outcomes that our task force worked so hard last year and brought to the body, have all been approved. That is a significant step forward."
Peterson conducted a survey that reported at least 111 teachers felt a chilling effect as a result of HF802. Peterson said while this isn't a result of the diversity requirement, he does believe the Faculty Senate's agreement to the interpretation of HF802 effects is.
"I know our members of the executive board, I appreciate them, I trust them," Peterson said. "I think, and I have said this before in this body, the ways in which the university has interpreted HF802 and the actions taken by the Executive Board as part of that has created a chilling effect among our colleagues."