Arizona State University professor sues school over DEI training: 'simply racism'

A longtime professor at Arizona State University (ASU) sued the university on Tuesday over a mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) course for faculty, arguing it violates state law.

Owen Anderson, a professor of philosophy, religious studies and theology at ASU, is suing the school with the help of the conservative nonprofit the Goldwater Institute, claiming it is in violation of a two-year-old state law that forbids public agencies from requiring employees to engage in training that presents any form of “blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.”

Anderson could face discipline from his superiors for refusing to participate in the DEI training, according to a press release from the Goldwater Institute. The complaint alleges the training discriminates by “compelling the speech of public employees by requiring faculty and staff to take an examination following a training that presents forms of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex, and answer with Arizona State University’s ‘correct’ answers, in violation of the Arizona Constitution.”

“I shouldn’t be forced to take training and affirm ideas with which I disagree as a condition of employment,’” Owen said in the press release. “This ‘training’ is simply racism under the guise of DEI. It goes against my conscience, and I want no part of it.”

Sun Devils Stadium Arizona State University Tempe (Getty Images)


The training, titled “ASU Inclusive Communities,” teaches faculty and staff that “white supremacy [is] normalized in society,” “Sexual identities are linked to power, and heterosexuality, the dominant sexual identity in American culture, is privileged by going largely unquestioned,” and “seemingly innocuous questions and comments” like asking people where they’re from or commenting on their hair, can be deemed “racist,” according to the complaint. The course also discuses how to “critique whiteness” and other topics like “white privilege”; “white fragility”; and the need for “transformative justice.”

Following the training, faculty are reportedly required to take a test and if they fail to provide what ASU deems to be the “right” answer, they’ll be reported to their supervising dean.

“Arizona state law prohibits mandatory training for state employees and use of taxpayer resources to teach doctrines that discriminate based on race, ethnicity, sex, and other characteristics,” Goldwater attorney Stacy Skankey said. “ASU is essentially forcing its employees to agree to a certain type of speech, which violates the Arizona Constitution’s broad protections for free speech.”

An ASU spokesperson originally told Fox News Digital that it aims to be consistent with state law, A.R.S 14-1494, and provide its employees with Inclusive Communities training that “promotes an environment of respect for all backgrounds, beliefs, and life experiences.” But, on Friday, after publication, they offered a new statement claiming “The lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute regarding diversity at Arizona State University is false and without merit.”

“ASU trains all faculty on its charter commitment to inclusiveness and the success of students from all walks of life,” the spokesperson said. “The Goldwater Institute suit misleads the court and misrepresents both the content and requirements of this training to make an argument that represents a political perspective but is not based on the law. ASU’s commitment to providing a supportive and welcoming educational environment for students of all backgrounds will continue and the university will respond appropriately to the Institute’s tactic.”

Arizona State University logo (AP Newsroom)

A day before filing the lawsuit, a new report issued by the Goldwater Institute, accused Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of “forcing political indoctrination” on students by requiring them to learn about “racial microaggressions,” and “cisgender privilege” in a mandatory course called “Diversity and Civility at Cronkite” for undergraduate students.


“More than 400 students were required to take this class in the Fall 2023 semester alone, with more than 2,000 hours of class time spent on what may as well be called Trendy Topics in Progressive Politics 101,” Goldwater wrote in a press release.

The course reportedly taught students that calling America a “melting pot,” is a racial microaggression that suggests immigrants should “assimilate/acculturate to the dominant culture.” Other phrases like “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” and “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough” are also allegedly considered problematic.

One assignment states that such phrases display the “myth of meritocracy,” and send the message that “People of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race,” and “People of color are lazy and / or incompetent and need to work.”

The Goldwater Institute report found more than 100 other classes offered during the Spring 2024 semester included “DEI” terminology.  (Getty)

This particular course wasn’t the only class pushing DEI ideology at ASU, according to Goldwater. The report found more than 100 other classes offered during the Spring 2024 semester included DEI terminology or fulfill their diversity requirement for undergraduates.


In August, the Arizona university system, which includes ASU, announced it would no longer require diversity, equity and inclusion statements in its hiring practices.

Fox News Digital previously reported that up to 80% of faculty job postings at Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University required applicants to pledge support to equity and inclusion efforts through “diversity statements,” according to a Goldwater Institute report. These requirements sometimes asked applicants to replace the traditional cover letter with a DEI statement, which forced candidates to provide “up to two full pages detailing their activism or commitment to the DEI regime.”

Arizona joined Texas, Missouri and North Carolina, which have all ditched mandatory DEI statements in recent years.

Fox News’ Kristine Parks contributed to this report.

Kendall Tietz is a Production Assistant with Fox News Digital. 

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