Oklahoma responds (sort of) to FIRE investigation into troubling faculty workshop

June 24, 2021

On Tuesday, FIRE publicized the University of Oklahoma’s “Anti-Racist Rhetoric and Pedagogies” workshop, in which instructors for English composition courses were taught how to shut down student arguments and speech that the instructors considered problematic. Yesterday, OU defended itself in a response to FIRE, saying that “participation in any given workshop is voluntary.”

This response entirely misses the point of the problem. OU probably knows this, but let’s spell it out.

The correct number of faculty members OU should train to indoctrinate and censor students based on their viewpoint is zero.

First, adjunct instructors are required to attend any one out of the nine professional development workshops offered by the university; graduate teaching assistants are required to attend two. So while instructors were not required to attend this specific workshop, it still represents part of the official “curriculum” for OU instructors. Our concern is that the instructors who did take this workshop have now been trained to prevent students from expressing dissenting viewpoints or even listening to disfavored arguments, and even to report or punish students who express “problematic” ideas. 

While it’s good that only some OU instructors attended this training instead of all of them, the correct number of faculty members OU should train to indoctrinate and censor students based on their viewpoint is zero. (Remember: FIRE’s concern isn’t about faculty censoring students for disrupting a class with their opinions — it’s about students not being able to write on certain sides of topics because those opinions are not shared by the instructors.)

Watching the workshop, it’s very clear that the leaders are speaking on behalf of OU. As FIRE’s Executive Director Robert Shibley told Newsweek, OU is “empowering the people instructing this to toe” the university’s official line. This workshop “crosses the border from being education into indoctrination — the kind of arguments they can make, even the kind of sources they can consult.”

FIRE appreciates OU’s statement that it “unequivocally values free expression and the diversity of all viewpoints.” However, we’ve heard this before, and it is meaningless without action.

OU’s actions consistently demonstrate a disregard for free speech, as it time and time again and again skirts its First Amendment obligations. And given that FIRE has been told that OU removed the course recording from the Canvas page where it was housed, there’s a good chance that OU knows it has yet again been caught doing what it shouldn’t.

Schools:  University of Oklahoma