Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE) executive director Jim Purcell defended diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs on Friday, criticizing a GOP-backed resolution to eliminate these programs in public institutions and a bill that would prohibit "divisive concepts" from being endorsed by higher education professionals.
The Alabama Republican Party (ALGOP) passed a resolution in February to abolish DEI policies and bureaucracies and mandatory diversity training in public universities and other public institutions.
According to the resolution, DEI policies — which proponents claim promote the representation and participation of different identity groups — do not fulfill their alleged purpose. Instead, they "have actually stifled intellectual diversity, prevented equal opportunity and discriminated against anyone who dissents from these policies."
Representative Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville) proposed a related bill in the Alabama House of Representatives last month. If passed, it would ban all public education institutions from "promoting or endorsing, or requiring affirmation of certain divisive concepts related to race, sex or religion."
Purcell insisted that these efforts are incongruent with the GOP's push for free speech on college campuses, despite admitting that the bill does not prohibit an institution from teaching or discussing the concepts as long as it does not endorse or expect students and faculty to expressly assent to them.
"I think that there is no better curriculum for preparing for the real world than a curriculum that requires students to think critically about real-world issues, including topics such as diversity, equity and inclusion," Purcell said on Friday's AHCE meeting. "Colleges should create a safe environment where persons are encouraged to explore new ideas, develop socially and are recognized by their talents above all else."
The 12 members of the ACHE are appointed by the Gov. and Lt. Gov., then confirmed by the Alabama Senate. The commission is responsible for "planning and coordination of higher education in Alabama."
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