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OU defends its online training stance to require staff’s agreement with approved viewpoints

Compelled speech.
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Last November, University of Oklahoma (OU) received a letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), inquiring about the school’s policies around diversity, equity, and inclusion training, and specifically, how this training was being carried out.

The practice bordered on coercive since faculty and staff were not only required to take the online courses and learn about the university’s stance (like students), but also express their agreement with it. This qualifies as compelled speech of employees.

It took a while for OU to respond to the letter but it arrived in late March to address the request to access the training materials by saying those would only be accessible on campus – because of alleged concern that copyright infringement related to the module used in training may occur.

“As you may imagine, this invitation to unnecessarily fly across the country amidst a pandemic did not strike us as a particularly sincere response to our request,” writes FIRE.

Instead of being more forthcoming about the policy and allow access to the materials in order to dispel any misgivings of enforcing compelled speech, OU contacted the non-profit by email to request that they update an article about the training requirements to reflect that a response had been received in early December – something that FIRE has no records of ever receiving either by email or mail.

In any case, the latest response from the university, signed by Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion & Chief Diversity Officer Belinda Higgs Hyppolite, disagreed that it was unlawfully imposing its workplace diversity training on employees, and that care is being taken to make sure nobody felt “fearful, threatened, or compelled to any particular viewpoint” – this despite the fact the training is mandatory and that to complete it, employees must provide answers they may not agree with.

In order to resolve the controversy, FIRE suggested, faculty and staff should be allowed, like students currently are, to attend training but not be forced to also expressly signal their agreement with the materials in order to complete the course.

Students and faculty members from other schools can get in touch if they are experiencing similar requirements.

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