A California judge has recommended suspension of the enforcement of rules instituted by the California Community College system intended to ensure faculty and staff members uphold diversity, equity and inclusion values.
The rules, which took effect in the spring, establish criteria for the evaluation of employees regarding their “demonstrated, or progress toward, proficiency in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility … competencies that enable work with diverse communities,” according to a May memo from system leaders.
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit against Bakersfield College and Kern Community College District leaders filed by Daymon Johnson, a history professor at the college. His suit alleged that he and other professors were penalized for espousing conservative views under the system’s mandate and discouraged from exercising their free speech rights. The lawsuit claimed the rules were unconstitutional and called for them to be suspended.
A magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California concluded that system leaders’ “aim of promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in California’s system of community colleges undoubtedly is important.” However, Johnson “has shown a likelihood of success on the merits that the regulatory scheme Defendants have put in place to advance these interests is contrary to the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech in the academic arena.”
Some free speech advocates celebrated the decision.
“This is a victory for the freedom to learn,” Jeremy C. Young, the Freedom to Learn program director at PEN America, a free speech advocacy group, said in a press release. “The requirements threaten academic freedom and free speech by circumscribing faculty’s professional discretion, and the judge has made the right decision to recommend a preliminary injunction.”
This article was corrected to reflect that the court ruling was a recommendation and not a suspension of California Community Colleges' DEI rules.