OU President Joseph Harroz announced in an email to the OU community Oklahoma House Bill 1775 was signed into law despite the university's “strong objection” to it.
HB 1775, originally an emergency bill regarding medical situations during high school sporting events, was rewritten into a bill implementing restrictions on certain gender and diversity theories being taught in schools.
The university and the OU Student Government Association released statements Thursday urging Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to veto the bill.
In the Friday email, Harroz wrote “although OU’s mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion training does not espouse superiority of one race or sex,” the institution is impacted by the passage of the bill.
“To comply with the law, students may now choose to opt out of the training, though we will strongly encourage them to still take it. The training is one of the many elements that reinforce our belief that the development and preparation of the whole student takes a multi-faceted approach,” Harroz wrote in the email. “OU employees – including student employees – are still required to complete the training, along with other necessary and essential employee trainings, such as sexual harassment and workplace safety.”
Harroz also stated he has heard from some colleagues the passage of the new law will interfere with academic freedom.
“I do not believe the Oklahoma Legislature’s intent was to limit academic freedom or freedom of speech. Even if it were the intent, I do not believe such a measure would pass constitutional scrutiny,” Harroz wrote in the email. “To our faculty, if that were ever to be in danger of occurring, let me assure you we would do everything in our power to ensure the continuance and full vitality of true academic freedom.”
In addition to OU’s training to increase diversity and inclusion, Harroz mentioned the creation of a new class — Gateway to Belonging at OU — this coming fall which he said “will be essential for each individual student, their future success, and their ability to impact society.”
According to the email, the new class will teach critical thinking skills and support students in developing “a true understanding of others, as well as a sense of belonging at OU and beyond.” It will be offered to first-year and transfer students beginning in fall 2021, Harroz wrote in the email.
“A course like this will benefit more than the individual student. An anticipated outgrowth will be an improvement of our own campus climate. The likely broader impact a course like this can make will be seen in larger society – in the workplaces and communities that our graduates will join,” Harroz wrote in the email. “These benefits speak to the importance of Gateway to Belonging at OU, for our students and their development, for our community and its health, and for society and its future.”
In addition to Gateway to Belonging at OU, Harroz said two additional courses will be offered to a First-Year Experience General Education requirement — Global Perspectives and Engagement, and Ethical Leadership Development. He said incoming freshmen in the fall of 2022 will be required to complete one of these courses in their first year.
“Our students’ success in making a difference in the lives of others depends upon their ability to engage with the broader world in a way that is understanding of all people and perspectives,” Harroz wrote in the email. “With our available diversity, equity, and inclusion training and the First-Year Experience – coupled with the unparalleled OU experience – it’s our belief that our students will be better prepared for a life of meaning and positive impact.”