April 2, 2002
Lattie F. Coor, President
Office of the President
Arizona State University
P.O. Box 872203
Tempe, Arizona 85287
Dear President Coor,
As you can see from our Directors and Board of Advisors, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, due process, voluntary association, freedom of speech, academic freedom, and legal equality on America’s college campuses. Our website, www.thefire.org, will give you a greater sense of our identity and activities.
I am writing on behalf of a student at Arizona State University (ASU) who informed FIRE of a race requirement for a first-year seminar, Navajo History 191. This course is listed on the website with no mention of a race requirement. The paper version of the course listings for the fall of 2002 contains a different listing for the seminar: “Class enrollment is limited to Native American students.”
FIRE sees no educational, moral, or legal value in denying students of other races the opportunity to learn about Navajo history. This sort of requirement reduces students to the sum of their blood and ancestry, and should be anathema to any institution committed to the diversity of its student population. Substitute “The History of Slavery…for US blacks only,” “The History of Israel…for Jewish-Americans only,” or “The History of Germany…for Aryan-Americans only” in those descriptions to understand how morally inappropriate and dangerous these requirements are. It is truly frightening to imagine a world where universities would segregate topics, education, and, therefore, knowledge on the basis of what they deem “appropriate” to each race. The last century saw other misguided attempts to deny education on the basis of race; American universities should be the last institutions to introduce those shameful practices to this new century.
To exclude students from a class on the basis of their race is not only unconscionable but, also, unconstitutional. The Equal Protection Clause does not tolerate school segregation on the basis of race; the law on this matter could not be clearer. Throughout American history, believers in civil and human rights have struggled to implement the principle of equal protection of law. We simply cannot believe that ASU seeks to repudiate this fundamental principle of human dignity and decency.
The Navajo History 191 race requirement even violates ASU’s own policies (under “ACD 403: Procedures for Resolving Complaints of Unlawful Discrimination”), which assert, “It is a violation of ASU policy to discriminate against any employee or student on the basis of that individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, citizenship, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, Vietnam-era veteran status, special disabled veteran status, other eligible veteran status, or any other unlawful discriminatory grounds.” This race requirement cannot withstand the scrutiny of constitutional, state or federal law, or your own policies and regulations. We suspect that whoever decided to exclude ASU’s race requirement from the public website knew that this was the case and deliberately sought to conceal this egregious example of illegal discrimination.
FIRE hopes that we are able to resolve this dispute discreetly and amicably. However, FIRE will pursue this case with persistence and resolution. We are categorically committed to using all of our vast media and legal resources to open Navajo History 191 to all students, regardless of race, who are interested in the history of the Navajo people. Please spare ASU the embarrassment of fighting against the Constitution, and the principles of legal equality and individual rights, by which it is legally and morally bound.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Alan Charles Kors
Noel J. Stowe, Chair, History Department
David A. Young, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Geraldine Anne Correy, Assistant Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Peter Iverson, Regents Professor of History