North Dakota Law

Updates from the University of North Dakota School of Law.

Assistant Dean, Tammy Oltz, quoted in Grand Forks Herald article regarding the ND ban on critical race theory for K-12

North Dakota ban on critical race theory for K-12 concerns higher ed professors

Legislators say law likely won’t open the door to ban theory for universities and colleges

FARGO — Some professors fear North Dakota legislation that bans critical race theory in public K-12 schools could open the door to a similar bill for higher education, but legislators and one dean said that’s not likely to happen.

House Bill 1508, which Gov. Doug Burgum signed into law last month, has raised concerns at North Dakota State University. NDSU English professor Anastassiya Andrianova inquired during a Faculty Senate meeting about the possibility of the new law being expanded to higher education in the future. If so, it could “adversely affect academic freedom,” she said.

“It seems to me that the kind of legislation that is being proposed and actually signed into law, like the recent anti-CRT bill and also Senate Bill 2030 that just passed in the recent biennium, it’s inching toward the sort of imposition of outside views upon what can and cannot be researched and what can and cannot be taught,” she said.

University educators voiced concerns about limiting academic freedom this year when legislators passed Senate Bill 2030 with an amendment that prevents schools that partner with groups who support abortion rights from receiving state Challenge Grant funds. There still is confusion about how that law, or Senate Bill 2030, should be applied by educators, Andrianova said.

NDSU Faculty Senate President Florin Salajan previously said he had questions over whether that legislation could open the door to banning other topics legislators don’t like.

Tammy Oltz, assistant dean for law library and information services at the University of North Dakota Law School, said she sees why faculty would be concerned, particularly those who care about racial equity, but she is not concerned about critical race theory being banned at colleges and universities. Doing so would likely be unconstitutional since it would inhibit academic freedom, the UND law professor said.

“I think that there’s always a slippery slope concern that people have when it comes to any kind of potential restrictions on speech, but the fact is that there is just, for better or for worse, far more protection at the higher education level than at the K-12 level,” Oltz said.

Rep. Jim Kasper, a Republican from Fargo who sponsored the bill, said there was no intent for HB 1508 to impact higher education. He said he has no desire to interfere with universities and colleges, and other lawmakers haven’t said anything about doing that, either.

“I don’t see it moving forward,” Kasper said. “If it moves forward, it won’t be because of me.”

Andrianova said Kasper’s words don’t lessen her fears. SB 2030 set a dangerous precedent, she added.

The critical race theory law can have a chilling effect on higher education instructors, NDSU English professor Holly Hassel said. Nontenured professors may not touch the topic after seeing K-12 be targeted, she said.

“You’re already kind of influencing what people feel safe to talk about in their classrooms, and that’s a side effect of this kind of legislation,” Hassel said.

Read the full Grand Forks Herald article