SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 20, 2024

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Multiple Institutions

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 20, 2024, Alabama’s governor signed into law new legislation limiting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives within public education and governmental systems, including the state’s public colleges and universities.

The new legislation, Senate Bill (SB) 129, prohibits operating and maintaining a DEI program or office using state funds, and eight “divisive concepts” from being discussed, ranging from the notion that “any race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior” to the discussion of whether “slavery and racism are aligned with the founding principles of the United States.” The new legislation also requires restrooms be “designated for use by individuals based on their biological sex” as stated on their birth certificate, and adds a provision prohibiting educators from assigning materials, such as books or films, in which the author admits personal complicity in historical injustices. SB 129 further authorizes state agencies to “discipline or terminate employees or contractors who violate this act.”

The new law will go into effect starting October 1, 2024 and fits into a broader pattern of states targeting DEI programs. At least 80 anti-DEI bills have been introduced across 28 states since 2023, with at least 12 passing.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about ideologically driven, government encroachments on universities’ authority to set policies concerning personnel, admissions, curricula, and the establishment of particular programs. Such actions undermine university autonomy and inhibit institutions’ ability to function freely, undermining academic freedom and democratic society generally. Moreover, actions targeting diversity and social justice efforts may also erode core university values including social responsibility and equitable access.

Sources:
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2024/mar/20/alabama-schools-dei-ban-gender-identity-bathrooms
https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2024/03/20/alabama-dei-bill/
https://www.cnn.com/2024/03/19/us/alabama-bill-bans-dei-public-universities-reaj/index.html
https://www.npr.org/2024/03/20/1239635678/alabama-dei-funding-ban-divisive-concepts
https://www.chronicle.com/article/alabama-curtails-colleges-diversity-efforts-under-new-law