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Indiana Law Could Endanger Tenure for Professors Who Speak Out Against Racism

The law “is clearly racist,” said David Greene Sr., president of University Alliance for Racial Justice in Indiana.

Indiana governor Eric Holcomb speaks during a ceremony at Indiana University in Bloomington.

On March 13, Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) enacted Senate Bill 202, which mandates that professors in Indiana’s public universities uphold “intellectual diversity” within their classrooms to maintain their tenure safeguards. However, critics have pointed out that Senate Bill 202 actually undermines diversity and inclusivity measures and erodes tenure safeguards for professors who teach at public colleges and universities in the state.

Failure to comply with this law may result in disciplinary measures, such as termination, demotion, or salary reduction.

“What is most egregious about the bill is the fact that such sanctions would be imposed as a consequence for speaking about discrimination and racism in higher education classes in the state of Indiana,” the University Alliance for Racial Justice in Indiana said in response to the bill.

Critics have also pointed out that the law will likely be weaponized against Black professors. David Greene Sr., a Black pastor and president of the University Alliance for Racial Justice in Indiana, explained in a statement that “[I]n what it targets — diversity, equity, and inclusion — and who it targets — Black university faculty — [the law] is clearly racist.”

Opponents of the bill believe that it is just the most recent attempt by the Indiana legislature to crack down on so-called critical race theory (CRT). “So all Indiana law professors need to engage critical race theory, critiques of political economy, critical feminist discourse, anti-racist discourse, etc. . . . right?” Etienne Toussaint, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, joked on social media in response to Senate Bill 202 being signed into law.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) emerged as a legal academic field during the 1980s. However, by 2020, the far right had appropriated the term CRT, transforming it into a weapon in the ongoing culture war advanced by Republicans to limit conversations about Black history, systemic racism, and white privilege in schools. According to tracking by the University of California Los Angeles law school, more than half of the country has passed measures against the teaching of CRT in schools.

“The attack [on CRT] is not merely a culture war, but rather a mode of leveraging control of public institutions,” Elias Rodriques and Clinton Williamson wrote for Truthout in 2021. “The Republican gambit is to use an attack on critical race theory to stir up their base to stay electorally engaged, and if they limit the livelihood of those outside their constituency, so much the better.”

Senate Bill 202 represents the latest assault on academic freedom within the state under the pretext of promoting “intellectual diversity.” In fact, Indiana already passed a bill in 2023 that limited curricular content, and multiple state officials, including Republican Rep. Jim Banks, the Indiana Board of Education, and state Attorney General Todd Rokita, have made anti-CRT statements in the past.

“This is a bill that targets teaching. Not geography. Not math but teaching about race and racism. Who does it harm? It harms Black principals who are simply trying to improve a climate of a school. It harms Black teachers,” said Dr. Russ Skiba, professor emeritus at Indiana University.

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