Montana Hall File, MSU File

A group of friends walks through Montana State University campus at sunset on April 2.

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Montana State University said its policies are in alignment with the state’s attorney general’s opinion barring critical race theory and antiracism teachings in the classroom.

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen asked the attorney general’s office in a letter earlier this month to rule on “the legality of teaching so-called ‘antiracism.’”

Attorney General Austin Knudsen responded last week with an opinion that carries the weight of law in Montana, ruling that aspects of antiracist or critical race theory — a movement in education centered on the idea that racism is systemic — could be in violation of federal and state law.

Knudsen’s opinion was clear that it is not a ban on First Amendment-protected speech.

University spokesman Michael Becker said Board of Regents’ policy on academic freedom for the university system campuses are in line with Knudsen’s opinion.

“As they have in the past, academic topics concerning race and discrimination will continue to be discussed in classrooms where, as the attorney general notes, there is a ‘legitimate pedagogical interest in explaining and effectively and lawfully addressing racism,’” Becker said in an emailed statement.

MSU has supported the freedom of speech and expression, no matter the topic, Becker said.

“That right is integral to a university and its free and open exchange of ideas and diverse points of view, which serve to further human knowledge, compassion and understanding,” Becker said.

Becker said campus activities and events were evaluated on an ongoing basis when asked if the attorney general's opinion would impact any decisions on what speakers the university invites to campus.

“Our immediate concern is to make sure that MSU classes and curriculum proceed without disruption for our students,” he said.

MSU Faculty Senate Chair Michael Brody and chair-elect Bradford Watson provided the Chronicle with a summary of conversations they’ve had with faculty members since the opinion on critical race theory was released.

The faculty members who responded said critical race theory has been around for many years and is an accepted part of helping students develop critical thinking skills. It can take on different versions and be taught in many classes and departments throughout the university system.

Faculty members said they would have liked to see Knudsen and Arntzen consult with Montana teachers, university system faculty and tribal college faculty who address racism and racial inequality in their classes and research. They said addressing racism and racial inequality are part of educating toward a just and equitable future.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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