UA System lobbies new bill with state legislature in response to critical race theory

Zach Johnson | @ZachJohnsonCW, News Editor

The University of Alabama System collaborated with the state legislature to create legislation that protects Alabama universities’ freedom over their curricula.

The joint effort between the state legislature and the Higher Education Alliance resulted in a new piece of legislation in response to legislators’ concerns about critical race theory in higher education. 

Faculty Senate members spoke out in October after House Bill 8 and House Bill 11, which seek to prevent universities from teaching critical race theory and related concepts, were prefiled in the legislature.

Clay Ryan, senior vice chancellor for external affairs for the UA System, said a new piece of legislation is in the works that will satisfy legislators’ goals while maintaining professors’ integrity in the classroom. 

“If we have a piece of legislation that allows the teacher to teach what they know, and allows the student to consider it, be knowledgeable about it, but not agree with it, that is an intellectually honest and sound position to arrive at,” Ryan said. 

Ryan said that he was encouraged that legislators understand the importance of universities’ academic freedom.

The new bill cannot be introduced until the state legislature exits the current special session on distributing COVID-19 relief funds. Ryan did not share the language of the bill. 

“I think the dialogue has been very good, regardless of whether somebody agrees with what the original bill says or not,” Ryan said. “There’s been a willingness to at least hear from us on our concerns. And I do think that legislation that ultimately moves through the process will reflect a great deal of input and feedback from us.”

In December, the UA Faculty Senate passed a resolution calling on UA President Stuart Bell to oppose legislation that “undermines academic freedom and, therefore, the historic purpose of higher education.”

The Faculty Senate urged the UA System to maintain its commitment to academic freedom. Neither Bell nor the UA System issued the statement requested. 

“I don’t think in this case that the public statement would be particularly helpful in advancing or achieving what we’re trying to do legislatively,” Ryan said. 

Sara McDaniel, a senator for the College of Education and the chair of the college’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee, was dissatisfied with the University’s silence on the resolution. 

“The bills that were introduced in January, that are now in committee … are no different than the bills that were prefiled in the summer,” McDaniel said. “So whatever the University was doing between the summer and January to impact the wording of the bills, the wording didn’t change. So I don’t know what we’ve been doing.” 

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