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Kentucky bill would ban ideological discrimination in public universities

Students, employees who don’t embrace DEI ideology would be protected, sponsor says

The Kentucky Senate Education Committee is considering a bill this month that would extend protections against political and ideological discrimination to public university students and employees.

Introduced by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, on Jan. 2, Senate Bill 6 would prohibit discrimination at Kentucky’s public postsecondary education institutions “due to the individual’s refusal to support or endorse any divisive concept.”

Divisive concepts described in the bill include classifying one’s race or sex to be inherently more or less privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive.

“Current Kentucky law protects K-12 teachers and school employees from discrimination in hiring and promotions based on political or religious opinions or affiliations. The same protections need to be extended to our public university employees and students, helping to end compelled speech on campus,” Wilson told The College Fix via email this month.

His legislation states that a student or employee of a public institution must “not be required to endorse a specific ideology or political viewpoint to be eligible for hiring, contract renewal, tenure, promotion, or graduation.”

The University of Kentucky, the largest in the state, has not yet announced a position on the bill. Spokesperson Jay Blanton told The Fix campus leaders are still reviewing the legislation.

“[A]s with any legislation impacting higher education, [we] will engage in discussions with legislators, policymakers and our campus,” Blanton said. “We are a campus steadfastly committed to ensuring that we are a place of belonging for everyone as well as a community dedicated to the fundamental academic value and principle of open inquiry and the free exchange of ideas. Those ideas are not only compatible, but essential, to who we are and what we do as Kentucky’s university.”

Many universities have adopted diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and programs in recent years, asserting that they create a more inclusive environment for individuals who have been oppressed.

Wilson, however, said modern DEI has contributed more to the division of society than to its unification.

“Instead of uniting us toward academic achievement, working together for a common good, and advancing us as a nation and a state, DEI principles undermine the notion that anyone can achieve whatever goals they set based on merit,” he told The Fix.

MORE: Some Texas colleges appear to dodge new law banning DEI offices

Wilson said he has been hearing a lot of concerns from students and professors in the state about a growing trend of DEI policies at their universities.

“I believe it is a trend in the wrong direction. Diversity statements have become a political litmus test to show allegiance to a particular set of politically held liberal beliefs,” Wilson told The Fix.

However, Senate Bill 6 already has faced criticism from some Democrat lawmakers.

“‘I think as a lawyer I look at this and I think that you violate a lot of constitutional rights, First Amendment, and I think there will be some challenges. I think you’re going to cost Kentucky so much time in money and litigation,’” Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, told Spectrum News 1 in a recent interview.

Wilson responded to the free speech concerns by saying the bill “is about protecting First Amendment rights for everyone at our Kentucky public universities.”

He told The Fix via email that it “does NOT limit discussion in the classroom, it simply protects students and employees from being held up against the false litmus test DEI principles are shrouded in.”

The College Fix also contacted the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions twice in the past two weeks to ask their opinions about the legislation, but neither responded.

The bill, which currently has nine sponsors, was referred to the Senate Education Committee earlier this month; it currently awaits action.

“We are all equals and SB 6 protects that notion,” Wilson told The Fix.

MORE: Sweeping Utah bill to ban DEI advances in Republican-controlled statehouse

IMAGE: Kentucky Sen. Mike Wilson/Facebook

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About the Author
Emily Marin -- St. Philip’s College