FIRE files lawsuit over free speech dispute

Reedley College professor Bill Blanken is one of six plaintiffs claiming California Community Colleges’ policies violate professors’ First Amendment rights

(Limelight Photography)
(Limelight Photography)
Darren Fraser
Published August 25, 2023  • 
2:00 pm

REEDLEY – On Aug. 17, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) filed a lawsuit on behalf of six California Community college professors against the California Community Colleges (CCC). FIRE is accusing CCC of forcing professors to teach what the professors believe are politicized versions of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA).

According to FIRE, CCC’s proposed regulations would require that all 54,000 professors in the CCC system must include anti-racist perspectives in their teaching. The group claims that forcing professors to include mandatory diversity statements as part of daily curricula violates academic freedom.


Bill Blanken teaches chemistry at Reedley College and is one of the professors suing CCC. In a FIRE press release, Blanken said, “I’m a professor of chemistry. How am I supposed to incorporate DEIA into my classroom instruction? What’s the anti-racist perspective on the atomic mass of boron?”

Blanken is in his 16th year teaching at Reedley. He said CCC does not take into consideration a professor’s subject. All teachers are evaluated under the same DEIA rubric.

“They’ve decided that we’re all going to work this into our classrooms,” Blanken said. “We all get the same faculty evaluation.”

Blanken said the expectation is that he, as a chemistry professor, will work into his teaching DEIA principles and ideology just as well as a history professor. When asked how he will do that, Blanken replied, “I don’t know. Can you tell me? Because no one has provided us with any answers and they haven’t provided us with any guidance.”

Blanken said he joined the lawsuit because he believes CCC’s proposed regulations are a profound infringement on his First Amendment rights.

“This is profoundly wrong, profoundly incorrect,” said Blanken. 

He said he is offended by the first tenet of DEIA ideology that maintains all institutions are racist.

“I am deeply offended by that,” Blanken said, “because they always make the accusation but they don’t follow it up with any proof. They make the accusation and it is incumbent upon everybody to prove that it’s not true. I am not going along with that. That is something from North Korea or a Maoist struggle session.” 

He added that if people accept the idea that institutions, such as Reedley College, are inherently racist, that means he is racist and his colleagues are racist.

“It means my students are racist and our policies and practices are racist,” he said. “I am just not going to go along with that.”

Blanken said he has not discussed the situation with his students. 

“What I want to do when I have a lecture or a lab is to teach them about chemistry. I teach my students how to think. Thinking logically and thinking critically.”

Blanken said he does not fear any blowback. He said he is not worried that he may be perceived as someone who is not condoning racism.

“I think these are profoundly incorrect principles,” he said. “Go ahead and say I won’t promote it. I will gladly accept that because I am not going to promote something I believe is profoundly wrong.”

Despite having tenure, Blanken said he is worried about his job.

“I am concerned about my job,” he said. “But I have discussed this with the attorneys and we’re prepared for that as well.”

Loren Palsgaard is a professor of English at Madera College and is one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. Palsgaard, who has taught at Madera for 25 years, said he is not opposed to the DEIA glossary of terms CCC published. He objects to CCC forcing professors to teach a particular ideology.

“Each year I have a debate in my class on the death penalty,” Palsgaard said. “Institutional and/or systemic racism is always a topic. But now? With these regulations? I wonder if we can have an opposing view about systemic racism.”

In the FIRE press release, Palsgaard said, “Hearing uncomfortable ideas is not curricular trauma and teaching all sides of an issue is not weaponizing academic freedom. That’s just called education.”


CCC’s regulations refer to a “Final Regulatory Text: Amending Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, to Include Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Standards in the Evaluation of Tenure Review of District Employees.”

The text, which has been heavily edited, includes definitions and multiple subchapters and sections. One section addresses an employee’s ability to work with diverse individuals and communities. The section reads, “In addition to the category-specific qualifications required by this chapter, all district employees shall demonstrate the ability to work with and serve individuals within a diverse community college campus environment as required by local policies regarding DEIA competencies.”

Another section reads, “The evaluation of district employees must include consideration of an employee’s demonstrated, or progress toward, proficiency in diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility…District employees must have or establish proficiency in DEIA-related performance to teach, work, or lead within California community colleges.”


CCC published a DEIA glossary of terms. According to CCC, the purpose of the glossary “is to serve as a reference guide of DEI terms that are critical to our shared understanding for the need to advance efforts to address systemic racism in our system.”

The glossary includes 49 terms, covering topics such as covert racism, educational equity gap, intersectionality, microaggressions, reverse racism, white immunity, white privilege and white supremacy.

FIRE maintains this glossary is highly ideological. In its press release, FIRE notes that the definition for anti-racist concludes with “Persons are either anti-racist or racist. Persons that say they are ‘not a racist’ are in denial of the inequities and racial problems that exist.”

Darren Fraser