“Be Paranoid”: Professors Who Teach About Race Approach the Fall With Anxiety

Beth McMurtrie
Chronicle of Higher Education

Excerpt: Brian D. Behnken, an associate professor of history at Iowa State University, says the controversy that has enveloped the nation over teaching “divisive” concepts has had a notable effect on his campus.

In June, Iowa’s governor signed a bill prohibiting public schools and colleges from requiring any training that teaches that the United States or Iowa “are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist,” among other concepts.

The university responded quickly. The provost initially rejected proposed revisions of an undergraduate diversity requirement that Behnken and others had spent months developing, suggesting that some of the new learning outcomes could violate the new law. Then, the administration came out with a controversial set of guidelines for how to avoid violating the state’s strictures on racism and sexism training, and on diversity and inclusion efforts.

A black assistant professor at another school, who declined to be identified, said that “someone could attempt to get you fired” and that her advice for colleges on protecting their professors would be: “Be paranoid. I hate to use that word, but what it means is constant vigilance.”