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Conservative professor sues ASU over its mandatory DEI training

An outspoken conservative professor at Arizona State University has sued his employer, alleging its mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training for faculty violates a two-year-old state law that forbids public agencies from requiring employees to engage in training “that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.”

Owen Anderson, a professor of philosophy, religious studies and theology at ASU, is the primary plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Tuesday with the help of the conservative nonprofit Goldwater Institute, based in Arizona.

The complaint alleges ASU’s mandatory DEI training requires employees to agree that white heterosexuals are inherently racist and oppressive, among other subjective topics regarding white privilege and social justice.

It argues the training, and its test at the end, not only runs afoul of the relatively new state law, but the state constitution’s protections on free speech as well.

“Anderson contends that requiring that he take the Inclusive Communities exam and attest agreement to its principles by taking an exam that predetermined the ‘correct’ answers violates his rights under the Arizona Constitution,” the lawsuit reads.

In a statement to AZCentral, a campus spokesperson defended the training.

“Arizona State University is committed to the success of each one of its students who come from all 50 states, 150 different countries and all socio-economic backgrounds,” the spokesperson told the outlet. “To help meet that goal, consistent with [state law], ASU provides its employees Inclusive Communities training which promotes an environment of respect for all backgrounds, beliefs, and life experiences.”

Anderson, who has taught at ASU for 21 years, has been an outspoken critic of DEI trainings and similar topics.

“In my own experience, I have found that this kind of DEI training is used to discriminate against Christians. Christians are the center of the ‘intersectionality’ circle,” Anderson stated on his personal Substack on Tuesday. “All other types of oppression are traced to Christians in this view. And therefore, they can be treated poorly. After all, so this thinking goes, it is their turn, and they deserve it.”

The Goldwater Institute’s 14-page lawsuit is accompanied by 173 pages of exhibits, that being the training and quizzes ASU employees must take, all obtained through a public records act request.

“The slides included statements or concepts including, but not limited to: acknowledging the history of white supremacy and social conditions for it to exist as a structural phenomenon; how perceptions of authority and control are not granted to minoritized faculty; racism takes the form of innocuous questions or comments; and heterosexuality is privileged and goes unquestioned,” the institute states on its website.

“The video transcript included … the following statements or concepts: it scares people to be called a white supremacist; we have to open the space to critique whiteness; and white supremacy was written into the foundational documents of our Nation. The Inclusive Communities training thus promulgated and funded concepts of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex in violation of Arizona law.”

In September 2023, the institute sent a letter to the Arizona Board of Regents demanding the university immediately stop spending public funds on the training, pursuant to the new law, but the university did not end the program.

ASU has already been in the hot seat recently among state Republican lawmakers over concerns that ASU improperly shut down the T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development after it hosted two well known conservatives — Charlie Kirk and Dennis Prager — prompting massive protests by professors.

Currently a bill winding its way through the Arizona state legislature seeks to “prohibit the Board of Regents and the state’s public universities from spending money on DEI programs,” AZ Central reported, adding it passed the senate earlier this year.

MORE: Arizona lawmakers learn sordid details on cancelation of ASU center that hosted conservatives

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.