Arizona State University officials appear to have violated state law by requiring staff to complete “racial equity” training, according to a new report by the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute.

Arizona has stringent laws against imposing training in diversity, equity, and inclusion—called DEI—in taxpayer-funded programs. These laws prohibit the use of taxpayer money for training sessions that assign blame or judgment based on race, ethnicity, or sex. 

Arizona State University’s sessions, called training in “ASU Inclusive Communities,” require school staff to sit through lessons on how to “critique whiteness,” “white privilege,” and “white fragility.” The training claims that the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution are “systems of [white] superiority.” 

Goldwater Institute, a free market think tank, describes this training as a part of what it calls the state university’s “DEI regime—a cancerous web of taxpayer-funded, racially discriminatory initiatives that are seeping into every aspect of university life, from faculty hiring to faculty training to classroom indoctrination.”

Goldwater also alleges that ASU, also in Phoenix, requires journalism students in its Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication to take a “mandatory DEI course as a requirement for graduation.” 

Stacy Skankey, a Goldwater staff attorney who authored the report, told The Daily Signal that the course includes units on preferred personal pronouns “and other biased language.”

This isn’t the first time ASU stoked controversy via progressive activism. In July, ASU professors told students not to attend a university event with Dennis Prager and Charlie Kirk, resulting in donor Tom Lewis canceling future gifts to the university.

“Thirty-seven out of 47 faculty at Barrett signed a really nasty letter of condemnation for the event. You can find it online,” Lewis told the Daily Signal in an interview. “They were calling Prager and Kirk purveyors of hate and homophobes and things like that.”

Goldwater filed a public records request March 6 with ASU, asking for “copies of course syllabi for the ‘Diversity and Civility at Cronkite’ course for the fall 2022 and spring 2023 semesters.”

The think tank’s two requests for an update on the filing March 20 and 24 were unanswered. After an attorney requested an update April 7, Kimberly Demarchi, ASU’s vice president of legal affairs and deputy general counsel, replied that “some responsive records were gathered” and the school “would follow up in the next week with an update.”

Demarchi did not “follow up in the next week,” however. She didn’t respond until April 29, when she wrote that the university would not provide copies because of “copyright protection” for the course syllabi.

But no state or federal copyright law protects a state university’s course syllabi from a public records request.

Skankey’s report for Goldwater Institute concludes that “the school has delayed in providing full answers to what’s being taught in the DEI course, even though it’s public information under Arizona’s public records law.”

To combat Arizona State University’s apparently obstructive approach, Goldwater sent two letters to Fred DuVal, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees and regulates the state’s public and private colleges and universities. 

The two letters to DuVal allege that it’s illegal for ASU to be “spending public money and requiring faculty and staff to take the ‘ASU Inclusive Communities’ training course.” The letters cite state law (ARS § 41-1494).

“That statute prohibits the state and its agencies from: (1) ‘us[ing] public monies for training’; or (2) ‘requir[ing] an employee to engage in training … that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex,’” Skankey wrote.

Another letter from the Goldwater Institute, dated Tuesday, demands that ASU provide full access to the requested materials, threatening legal action if the university fails to comply with state law.

DuVal did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment by time of publication.

Jay Thorne, associate vice president of media relations and strategic communications for ASU, responded to The Daily Signal’s earlier request for comment after initial publication of this report. Thorne confirmed some of Goldwater Institute’s claims while disputing its characterizations of them.

Thorne confirmed that all undergraduate students in the degree programs for sports journalism, journalism and mass communication, and digital audiences must take a required one-credit course called “Diversity and Civility at Cronkite.” Thorne insisted that the diversity aspect includes conservatives.

Although he disputed that the course includes a “section” or “module” on personal pronouns, Thorne confirmed that it “does discuss the concept of pronouns (along with many other concepts) as it relates to gender identity.”

Thorne also confirmed that ASU employees receive training on “Inclusive Communities” in order “to ensure their success in working with a very large student community that comes from all socio-economic backgrounds from all 50 states and 150 countries from around the world.”

The ASU spokesman disputed the notion that such instruction is a “DEI program,” however.

“There are no required DEI programs for ASU faculty or staff,” Thorne said.

This report was updated an hour after publication to include comments from ASU spokesman Jay Thorne that arrived after The Daily Signal’s deadline to respond to its request for comment.

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