The University of Oklahoma teaches instructors how to make students shut up and swallow an accepted ideology

June 24, 2021 • 9:41 am

This new article from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) tells a dire tale that is documented with a recording.

On April 14, the University ran a professional development workshop for grad students and instructors dealing with “Anti-Racist Rhetoric & Pedagogies”. In this workshop, the instructors were taught how to make students shut up about certain topics, steer them and bend them to a woke ideology and, most offensively, how to threaten students with lower marks (or reporting to the administration) if they didn’t write the right stuff in their assignments. Click on the screenshot to read (and hear):

Of course it’s not illegal under the First Amendment to prevent students from disrupting classes, nor is it illegal to make them regurgitate material you’ve taught them, even if they don’t accept it. (In my evolution classes here, for instance, I sometimes had some creationist students, but they were graded on their ability to answer questions under the assumption that what I taught them was true. But I never made them accept evolution if they rejected it.)

Here’s the one-hour video of the U of O Zoom session. FIRE has highlighted it with time stamps certain parts that are worrying:

FIRE’s quotes are indented:

The workshop in question trains instructors on how to eliminate disfavored but constitutionally protected expression from the classroom and guide assignments and discussion into preferred areas — all for unambiguously ideological and viewpoint-based reasons. FIRE’s concerns are further compounded by the University of Oklahoma’s brazen and unconstitutional track record of putting individual rights out to pasture.

. . .But it’s not just racism the presenters encourage participants to root out.

One of the workshop leaders, Kelli Pyron Alvarez, explained in the recording how undergraduate students in one of her introductory English courses are “a little bit more emboldened to be racist” (17:17). To combat this, she forbids huge swaths of classroom speech, including “derogatory remarks, critiques, and hate speech,” as well as “white supremacist ideas or sources,” unless the student is using those sources to dismantle racism.

If you are wondering what sources or ideas are off limits because they fall into Pyron Alvarez’s subjective categories of white supremacist sources or “derogatory remarks” — well, she never specifies, so you should be.

Making a mistake can cost you: “If they use any of those things, if any of those come through in their writing or in their comments, I will call them out on it.” (18:20)

And if it happens again, “report them.”

Report them! To whom? Remember, as a state school, the University of Oklahoma must adhere to the principles of the First Amendment, and cannot penalize students for simply believing things that the instructors frown on. But wait! There’s more!

. . . Fairly early in the training, Pyron Alvarez addresses the potential reluctance faculty members might have toward putting a heavy hand on student speech. “One of the fears is that we’re going to get in trouble for this, right?,” she says. “Like we can’t tell students that they can’t say something in class. But we can! And let me tell you how.” (17:45)

Pyron Alvarez’ fellow workshop leader Kasey Woody later goes into some detail on how instructors can “steer” students away from “problematic territory” to accomplish this. (46:01)

“I, in this case, usually look for my students who might be, like, entertaining the idea of listening to a problematic argument. Then I say, ‘we don’t have to listen to that.’” (45:45)

That’s right — even thinking about listening to a disfavored argument is apparently to be discouraged.

Woody later reassures the instructors that they won’t face consequences for censoring students: “You do not need to worry about repercussions at any degree in the university if you are responding to a student who is using problematic language in the classroom.” (49:42)

And who gives them the green light to censor OU students? According to Pyron Alvarez, that permission comes from the highest court in the country.

“The Supreme Court has actually upheld that hate speech, derogatory speech, any of the -isms do not apply in the classroom because they do not foster a productive learning environment. And so, as instructors we can tell our students: ‘no, you do not have the right to say that. Stop talking right now’, right?” (20:05)

Now that is just wrong. The Supreme Court has said that speech on school grounds that causes “material and substantial disruption” of school functions can be punished. But what doesn’t “foster a productive learning environment” now becomes the judgment of the U of O instructors, and “material and substantial disruption” doesn’t seem to be what the OU trainers are addressing here—unless they adhere to the false mantra that “offensive speech is violence.”


Some of the responses from workshop participants indicated that they understood how what they were being told to do was out of the ordinary, and expressed reservations about it. One workshop participant asked whether instructors are doing a disservice to their students by censoring certain topics. The participant asked how to identify problematic arguments and whether, for example, a student should be able to examine if the Black Lives Matter movement should refrain from property damage. In response, Pyron Alvarez suggests telling students to “re-adjust” their topic if they’re “bordering” on being offensive. (53:05)

That’s not advice on what arguments might be effective — that’s “advice” on what arguments are politically acceptable.

It goes on, and doesn’t get better. FIRE wrote the University about this, and at first they refused to respond. Finally, yesterday UO Chief Diversity officer Kesha Keith responded, but it was a non-response. Keith asserted that the University “unequivocally values free expression and the diversity of all viewpoints”, but that’s not what the video shows. Keith also says that participation in this session was voluntary, but instructors are required to attend at least two of nine workshops.

On April 8 I reported that when FIRE wanted to see this Zoom session, the U of O stipulated very specific conditions:

The university’s March 23 response — more than four months after our request — said that FIRE would be permitted to view the training materials, but only in person on OU’s campus in Norman, Oklahoma. In other words, in order to view public records, the University of Oklahoma would require a FIRE staff member to fly across the country (FIRE is based in Philadelphia) during a global pandemic. That’s not exactly a transparency-friendly approach to public records, and it all but ensures that public records remain private.

It looks as if the U of O will continue this training—training that is effectively propaganda and also involves lying about student rights.

What can you do about it? At the bottom of the FIRE page is this form, and all you have to do is fill in your name and email address and press “send”, which will send the message at the bottom. I’ve already done that.  Read FIRE’s report, and if you agree that this kind of training  violates the rights of students, fill in the form and click. The only way we can stop the propagandizing of students and the discouragement of “speech” that the instructors don’t like is to speak up!


The message that’s automatically send under your name.

I am concerned about the state of free expression and freedom of conscience at the University of Oklahoma. Multiple instructor training sessions indicate that student and faculty individual rights are in jeopardy.

OU is a public institution, obligated to respect student and faculty rights. We call on you to ensure that individual rights are not violated at Oklahoma’s flagship institution.

Demanding ideological uniformity is a violation of students’ constitutional rights.

27 thoughts on “The University of Oklahoma teaches instructors how to make students shut up and swallow an accepted ideology

  1. I signed the form and added the following at the very end:

    And if you think that SCOTUS has guaranteed your ‘right’ to carry out this kind of authoritarian suppression in the name of preventing violence and disruption, just watch what happens when you’re hit with a class action suit brought by some very angry students and parents that winds up before the High Court. I don’t like your chances there very much at all.

  2. It will be interesting to see whether enrollment drops at UO. I added to the last sentence, “and is not education, but propaganda.”

  3. Maybe Ken can correct me, but AFAIK the SCOTUS rules on limiting disruptive speech in schools are intended for K-12, since the government compels kids to attend those grades. The logic is: since the State forces you to be here, the State must limit that compelled time to educational purposes and can limit other attendees speech content more than usual (but not completely), to shield you from irrelevant-to-education content you would otherwise avoid.

    Since University attendance is voluntary, the state’s rights to limit ‘disruptive’ content of speech has much less justification. Sure the standard time/place/manner restrictions are okay, but the content restrictions a H.S. can constitutionally place on a H.S. student in the building are, AIUI, not applicable to the content restrictions a Uni professor can place on a Uni student on campus.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying I don’t think these folks have a constitutional leg to stand on. Yeah you can stop a student opposing BLM in a class on Shakespeare; that’s a time/place restriction. But you can’t stop a student opposing BLM when the class topic is BLM. And yeah you can stop a BLM opposer from vituperative cursing or shouting over another student; that’s a manner restriction. But conservative objections to liberal positions given with a raised hand and being called on to speak, using appropriate classroom language, are IMO protected.

    1. “But conservative objections to liberal positions given with a raised hand and being called on to speak, using appropriate classroom language, are IMO protected.”


    2. Classrooms have never been considered public forums for First Amendment purposes. Consequently, I don’t think the Free Speech Clause applies to student speech during class time. Instructors are free to give lectures without allowing any classroom discussion at all, or to allow only so much classroom discussion as they see fit.

      I think the type of viewpoint-slanted classroom discussion you pose makes for extremely poor pedagogy, but I don’t think it would give rise to a justiciable First Amendment issue.

  4. I added the following to the email:

    I always find it interesting that advocates of “diversity” only care about diversity of appearance (probably the least important thing about a person) and the racial group one was born into (by accident of birth), not diversity of ideas; and they are the most likely demand uniformity of ideology and to suppress dissent.

  5. Oklahoma newspapers need to cover this – so that Oklahoma residents can see their tax dollars at work.

  6. As I keep reminding myself endlessly, those who are the most keen to espouse ‘diversity and inclusion’ almost always turn out to be the most eager to enforce ‘conformity or exclusion’.

    1. Liberals are making a big mistake in defending CRT. This is because whatever it once meant, it is now used by the right wing as a catchword to slur any discussion on race in America or its history as somehow anti-American. Under the guidance of people such as Christopher Rufo, the right wing is quickly becoming successful associating CRT with “America haters.” This tactic is similar to the right wing labelling liberals as communists in the early 1950s. What is most insidious about this right wing campaign is that it will perpetuate the fairy tale version of American history that soothes white souls. Some red state legislatures are attempting to do this. Censorship and distortion is not limited to one extreme.

      Once again, liberals have fallen for the right wing trap. They seem hapless in countering the right wing’s relentless campaign to lie about American history as part of its campaign “to own the libs.” Here are my recommendations for what liberals should do.

      1. Do not mention CRT or the 1619 Project, regardless of what they think of them.
      2. Strip from their assertions radical or unverifiable claims by leftist extremists.
      3. Under no circumstances claim that all whites are racists.
      4. Employ the use of academics with no association with extremists to explain the history of slavery and race in America. No exaggerations or wild assertions are necessary to explain this country’s sorry history.
      5. Above all, be relentless. This is one thing that liberals could learn from the right.

      Charles Sykes is a contributor to the Bulwark, a conservative but anti-Trump site. In a recent post, he explains how the anti-CRT campaign is being used by the right wing to stifle free discussion of important social issues, including how it is attempt to equate CRT with Marxism. Sykes approvingly quotes Andrew Sullivan’s recent post about CRT. Reasonable conservatives such as Sykes know exactly what Rufo and the other right wingers are attempting to do – first ban CRT then anything else that contradicts their delusional view of the country.

      1. Many people, when they talk about getting CRT out of the schools, simply mean that schools should not teach, as truth, “divisive concepts,” “race or sex stereotyping,” or “race or sex scapegoating,” as defined below. Would you have any objection to this?

        (a) “Divisive concepts” means the concepts that
        (1) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
        (2) the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist;
        (3) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
        (4) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex;
        (5) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex;
        (6) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex;
        (7) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
        (8) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or
        (9) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race. The term “divisive concepts” also includes any other form of race or sex stereotyping or any other form of race or sex scapegoating.

        (b) “Race or sex stereotyping” means ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of his or her race or sex.

        (c) “Race or sex scapegoating” means assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex. It similarly encompasses any claim that, consciously or unconsciously, and by virtue of his or her race or sex, members of any race are inherently racist or are inherently inclined to oppress others, or that members of a sex are inherently sexist or inclined to oppress others.

    2. Well, he was asking her to listen to a problematic argument. She doesn’t have to listen to that, as explained in the U. of Oklahoma training material. How much more clear could it be?

  7. An example of a white supremacy cultural narrative is the notion of neoliberalism, defined as follows: “Neoliberalism is an ideology and policy model that emphasizes replacing entitlements with market-based solutions to social problems and places value on free market competition. In the food space, neoliberalism is rooted in American ideals of personal responsibility and hard work as the solution to hunger…”

    For example, “‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ is rooted in the belief that people need to take personal responsibility and work harder to get out of hunger and poverty. It is a classic neoliberal narrative, pathologizing the individual, highlighting the exceptional individuals who succeed in spite of ‘the odds’ and focusing on individual behavior and work ethic as keys to economic prosperity. This narrative dismisses structural and institutional barriers to economic advancement that systemically disadvantage predominantly BIPOC people and communities.”

    A concrete example was the Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act of 1996. “The Act, signed by President Clinton, substantially reformed welfare in the United State, in an attempt to ‘end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage.’ As noted by the name, the Act emphasized a narrative of personal responsibility and working hard as the solutions to poverty and to shrink reliance on the government by ‘needy parents.’”

    I would hope that if I made an argument in English class at OU that promoted such white supremacism, the instructor would merely tell me to “stop talking right now” (as it was put in the training) and would not instead have me formally disciplined by the University.

    1. So you’d rather she shut you up than countered your statements and reasoning with logic and historically documented information. Interesting response….

      1. In U. of Oklahoma classes, according to this workshop, “White supremacist” and “problematic” arguments (including presumably the one I presented) are not to be tolerated but rather the instructor is to cut them off with “we don’t have to listen to that” and “stop talking right now.” So, much as I would prefer the option you proposed, this description of proper classroom administration at the U. of Oklahoma would apparently make it unavailable there.

        1. OK, maybe we’re talking to the same point—which is (I think) the anomalous (and I’d say extremely dangerous) policy of shutting up any argument the instructor deems supportive of white supremacy, regardless of whether or not there’s a rational basis for that judgment. If so, then yes. Being shut up is certainly preferable to being disciplined by a woke Star Chamber of the sort that U Oklahoma appears to be anxious to create….

  8. Although letters to U of O will do no harm, and I suppose that embarrassing the university might have some small effect, nonetheless litigation is the most powerful response to this sort of thing. Let’s hope that some UO student or staff member takes the institution to court over this coercive agit-prop, perhaps
    in a civil action claiming plenty of $ damages.

  9. To combat this, she forbids huge swaths of classroom speech, including […] “white supremacist ideas or sources

    So that conveniently excludes referring to pretty much anything written before … 2000?
    Beowulf would give her some arguments to chew on – the soggy end of Grendel’s arm, perhaps.

  10. Perhaps my deepest fear is that, with a major political party working in lockstep to undermine the US Constitution – with the “big lie” and the 1/6 insurrection as some of the first shots fired- the “woke” are doing everything in their power to hand them a major victory in the battle for hearts and minds among the population at large.

    1. This reminds me of that old knock on the Democrats, that they have a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In recent history, the election of Joe Biden was happily an exception to this knock, but OTOH the shocking absence of the Dems’ predicted Congressional rout of the Republicans confirms it.

  11. If the best argument your interlocutor can come up with is “shut up”, what does that say for the credibility of their position? When I was on my way out of Mormonism, looking at the pathetic efforts of the apologists to explain why all the scientific evidence should undermine Mormon claims, I realized that this was itself a kind of scientific evidence- if their claims were true their best and brightest should be able to come up with something better than pure nonsense. I didn’t have the time and means to look under every rock for evidence, but they did, and that’s the best they could come up with.

    What I’m wondering is- when and where will the first University-level course *about* CRT, not an indoctrination *in* CRT but a critical look at it, be taught? I would use my status as a 65+ senior to pay my $10 to attend that…

  12. Yikes! The comments are calm and measured – I listened to the whole thing, and I’m jumping up and down ranting at the screen. I stared by going to the timepoints listed, but there are so many other bits that are ‘worth’ istening to. The question at 50:30 (reasonable) – the response…ugh. I am flustered by the coolade acceptance of mind contro, so excuse my furious off-the-cuff text below…

    John Stuart Mill – you are a racist, white enabling, colonial, hate-speech promoter – clearly.

    The fact that their solution to someone who might even broach a topic is to ‘speak to the student’ – that is, the teacher gatekeeps the thoughts before they are released into the wild. The teacher will decide on what words and thoughts are allowed.

    Overtly racist stuff – we all agree should be called out.
    But they are clearly lumping ANY words uttered by a non-POC as racist or problematic (unless heavily vetted and sanitised first).

    As PCC always says: they assume that all POC are one homogenous group and will all be offended and damaged by someone else’s ideas even in a setting where ideas are meant to be discussed. (Of course, I feel that if I were a POC, I would welcome being challenged, but that’s because I am a white racist pig who cannot understand the lived experience of a minority).
    It seems so clear that the ideolgy of the movement (and these teachers do NOT see this, and really believe what they say) is to remove ALL challenges and discussion and equal dialogue – because that clears the way for a new power structure to ascend. I actually think it’s a superb strategy. It’s working.

    Funny, I say I am classed as white racist pig (merely for existing and having questions) – but when I was young, I was the ‘son of Italian migrants in Australia’ – and thus I was incessently racistly abused. I DO know what racism is. My parents NEVER cried foul, never played victim. And by not remaining victims, they morph now into ‘the oppressor’ – merely because of their skin colour, because NOW their skin colour is not dark enough, so they MUST be part of the OPPRESSOR class (who cares what THEIR ‘lived experience’ is).

    Okay, sorry. I did not take time to formulate my words. Just reacting. I can’t talk to my daughter (17yo) about this stuff because she immediatley gets upset and calls me an older white male oppressor. For the record, I am left-leraning, have no white friends (only Chinese, black, Sri Lankan, Indian, Persian…) and donate monthly to a local LGBTIQ+ educational organisation and…why am I protesting so much. See, they have me doubting my own motives. I am pro all the same issues as my daughter, but she polices not just the language, but the fact that I will ask a question, or challenge a specific incident for veracity BEFORE committing to the bandwagon…

    Sorry, too long a post. I will desist on this thread now. Thanks.

  13. It is a bit concerning to me that many of the comments here seem to be primarily concerned about whether what is going on will give Ted Cruz and his ilk more talking points.
    When I watched this and similar videos, and read some of the dross the CRT evangelists produce, I am really horrified at what they are attempting to do to our society.
    It seems like, when facing a committed group of such fanatics, who appear to be gaining power everywhere, that the threat they pose should be evaluated on it’s own, and not just in terms of whether it might give one’s opponents some political advantage.
    Personally, I think it is foolish to take the terms “left” and “right”, and label one as good and the other bad. You don’t have to go very far back in history to find examples of both groups engaging in acts from book burnings to mass executions.
    Nobody ever got out of a rail car and exclaimed “sure it is an extermination camp, but it is a progressive extermination camp, so everything is fine”.

  14. It’s a fascinating thing (and very troubling) thing to observe. I have seen logical people who think for themselves lose their minds in the face of enough pressure and systemic ideology. This was a technique used in the former Soviet Union, and other communist nations, and probably still a part of Russia.

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