Only one course at the University of Kansas describes its curriculum as guided by Critical Race Theory, a concept that’s been around since the 1970s but recently has become a hot-button issue in conservative circles.
After receiving an inquiry from Sen. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka, the Kansas Board of Regents — which governs KU and the other five public universities in the state — asked the schools to produce a list of courses that teach the theory, The Kansas City Star reported Friday.
Jill Hummels, the communications manager for the office of KU’s provost, confirmed to The Lawrence Times that university administrators received and responded to the request from the Regents. Only one course, Hummels wrote in an email, was found to have Critical Race Theory in its description. She declined to identify the course.
Critical Race Theory, which came to prominence in the mid-1970s, argues that racism has been a significant factor in the formation and function of the United States. The theory relies strongly on writings from Black thought leaders, who sought to critically analyze why changes to civil rights law implemented in the 1960s had been so slow to show progress, according to the Purdue Online Writing Lab.
In recent months, conservative think tanks and organizations such as the Heritage Foundation have blamed Critical Race Theory for the state of race relations in the U.S., claiming that it is a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people. That attitude has prompted bills in a number of state legislatures seeking to ban teaching the theory, mainly in K-12 classrooms.
Despite criticism that banning Critical Race Theory from classrooms suppressed academic freedom and thought, the debate about its use in educational settings also has become an issue in higher education.
Last month, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on the newspaper’s “1619 Project,” was denied tenure for a teaching job at the University of North Carolina after the school’s conservative board of governors intervened, citing the project, which used an approach similar to Critical Race Theory to chronicle the advent of slavery in the U.S. and its winding impact on society.
Dietrich, the Kansas state senator who requested information on what Critical Race Theory courses the state’s colleges were teaching, told the Star she wasn’t concerned about the theory’s use in Kansas schools. However, she said, constituents had asked her about the practice, leading her to inquire with the Regents about its status. The Regents asked each university to provide a list of courses using Critical Race Theory.
“I think that’s really one of the most important things we do as legislators: we find out information and we pass it on to our constituents. I think we have an obligation to make sure it’s accurate,” Dietrich said.
KU did not directly say whether it has a stance on teaching Critical Race Theory in its classrooms, but did reaffirm a commitment to academic freedom. “The provost is committed to academic freedom in instruction and research,” Hummels said.