U Iowa threatens probation for student who criticized Critical Race Theory, backtracks amid lawmaker's involvement

The University of Iowa College of Dentistry called President Donald Trump’s executive order on critical race theory an “attack on people and free speech.”

After one student responded, the administration threatened him with probation and denied him the ability to bring an attorney to a disciplinary hearing.

A state legislator then contacted the university and the administration backed down.

The University of Iowa College of Dentistry sent an email to the department condemning President Donald Trump’s executive order banning critical race theory in diversity training. After a conservative student responded, the administration threatened him with probation but later backed down.

On Oct. 16, the College of Dentistry leadership wrote that it “strongly condemn[s] Executive Order 13950, which prohibits trainings that are crucial to progressing toward a more equitable and just society.” President Trump signed the order, which defunds entities that teach the “pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country,” in late September.

“Though we understand the importance of complying to avoid a potentially devastating impact on University of Iowa operations and funding, we stand unified against this order and its attack on people and free speech,” continued the College of Dentistry’s email. “The Executive Order undermines fundamental university values and practices.”

Among several individuals who “replied all” to the email was Michael Brase, a second-year dental student, who asked for clarification on the notion that the executive order ought to be condemned.

Because the executive order defines “race or sex stereotyping” as “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,” Brase asked for clarity on why the College of Dentistry would “support using federal funds to promote trainings that include race/sex stereotyping and/or race/sex scapegoating.” He also wondered if the school supports “using federal funds to promote trainings that teach that certain races/sexes are inherently or fundamentally oppressive, racist, sexist, etc.”

“If the COD does not support the items listed in the previous questions, then what specifically about Executive Order 13950 does the COD condemn?” he added.

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A handful of individuals likewise “replied all,” recommending that Brase read the works of Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi to find the answers to his questions.

One faculty member suggested that “maybe the EO wasn’t actually designed to eliminate race and sex-based stereotyping.”

Dr. Steve Kelly, another faculty member, commended Brase for responding to the school’s email, which he also did not appreciate.

“It took a lot of guts for you to send your email Michael,” he said. “Hopefully you’ll get a reply that we can all read. Better yet, maybe it will result in a meeting of interested parties.”

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On Nov. 9, Brase received a letter from the university’s Collegiate Academic and Professional Performance Committee (CAPP), notifying him that he would be subjected to a hearing due to his “unprofessional behavior involving the follow-up emails” after he was “offered other means to continue the conversation.” The hearing could have resulted in Brase’s probation or dismissal, according to the letter.

Brase replied to the letter, asking if he would be allowed to bring an attorney or recording device to the hearing. Associate Dean for Student Affairs Sherry Timmons told Brase that, as per the CAPP manual, Brase would neither be permitted to bring an attorney or record the meeting.

Brase told Campus Reform that he reached out to several Republican state legislators once he realized that he was “not going to get fair and unbiased treatment within the school.” More than a dozen responded to him, assuring him that “the issue of freedom of speech in the state public universities would be a legislative priority for them.”

State Representative Steve Holt met with College of Dentistry Dean David Johnsen and University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld on Brase’s behalf. Brase subsequently received a letter from Johnsen stating that the hearing had been canceled.

“Free speech issues can be difficult to navigate and I apologize we did not serve the college better,” said Johnsen. “Everyone deserves to have their voice heard.”

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Brase provided a personal statement to Campus Reform, which clarified that he sees “potential benefits of DEI trainings that explore a wide spectrum of implicit biases,” yet believes that “DEI trainings derived from CRT are a whole separate issue.”

“CRT trainings are, by design, intended to highlight, deepen, and perpetuate racial divides,” explained Brase. “They are insulting and condescending to people of color and derogatory to people who are White. The CRT agenda is totalitarian, riddled with contradictory ideas, and is rooted in the goal of displacing free societies with a society that is fundamentally built upon the concept of permanent racial inequality.”

Brase also said that he “absolutely [does] not” regret speaking against the email. He sees the incident as “one example of what is taking place at universities across the country.”

“This has demonstrated how administrators in education are willing to abuse their power over students and discard First Amendment rights in order to further their political agendas and to silence any voices that dare question the takeover of critical race theory in academia,” he explained.

Rep. Holt told Campus Reform that the University of Iowa “seemed very concerned and acknowledged they did not handle the situation correctly.” The university assured him that it would “work even harder to protect free speech.”

Holt also explained that “a number of legislators are deeply concerned by the assault on free speech we see taking place on university campuses.” A few years ago, they passed campus free-speech legislation, and they will now “likely hold hearings and look at what more can be done to get this under control, to ensure that free speech is protected regardless of political viewpoint.”

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Iowa for comment and will update this article accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft