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Newly selected LSU president Dr. William Tate IV speaks during a press conference following a meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Thursday, May 6, 2021, at the Lod Cook Alumni Center on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge, La. Dr. Tate is slated to become the first African American president in LSU and SEC history.

As a young student, the father of incoming LSU President William F. Tate IV gave him a copy of the U.S. Constitution. “When I was teenager, my father handed me the Federalist Papers and basically said ‘You have to understand this’,” Tate recalled Thursday.

As University of South Carolina provost, Tate pushed the Senate Faculty to add what he calls “constitutional heritage” to the curricula — establishing a class that studies the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, chapters of the Federalist Papers, the Emancipation Proclamation, and documents that conceptualize the African American experience at the country’s foundation, something like Frederick Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Tate then advocated for “constitutional heritage” before the South Carolina General Assembly. On April 28, South Carolina Gov. Henry D. McMaster, a Republican, signed into law Act 26 adding the class to public high school curricula, “which in my opinion will be my greatest legacy at the University of South Carolina.”

What Tate doesn’t understand is all the talk about “critical race theory,” about which he has written a great deal.

Emerging in the 1970s, critical race theory, or CRT, is a scholastic way that academic and legal scholars can analyze the impact of racism over time and how it lives on in the nation’s systems. Think about the common use of nonunanimous jury verdicts before the practice was discovered to have originated a century ago with the specific aim of subjugating Blacks.

Tate says critical race theory is not a subject for undergraduate students. “Critical race theory is a framework used in law school and in PhD’s education to better understand how laws are formulated and the influence of law on everyday life,” Tate said.

But not for many conservatives.

“I call it state sponsored racism,” state Rep. Valarie Hodges said Thursday on Talk 107.3 FM. The Denham Springs Republican pushes the idea of teaching the founding documents and to make history and civics classes more patriotic.

Plenty of people have an opinion about Tate, who doesn’t start his new job until July 6, because of his academic scholarship using critical race theory. And not just the extreme outlets.

The Shreveport Times recently printed a piece stating: “It would be counterintuitive and naive to assume his views of, and belief in, CRT won’t inform his decision-making as president.” Columnist Royal Alexander, a former GOP politico, went on to call critical race theory “a complete degradation of perhaps America’s most sacred principle.”

Northeast Louisiana columnist Sam Hanna Jr. criticized Tate’s selection as president because of an academic career “defined by his espousal of critical race theory including its outrageous claim that mathematics itself is racist.”

Actually, as one of the nation’s leading scholars on education, Tate’s paper weighed demographics, poverty, teacher pay, school financing, student behavior, and other variables in 471 Missouri school districts as context for Algebra I performance and a way to develop models of teaching the entry course to the mathematics that get high schoolers into college.

As president, Donald Trump called the academic tool “anti-American propaganda” and ordered federal agencies to stop funding any teaching that suggests the U.S. is a racist country.

Before Trump’s statement, however, the Southern Baptist Convention seminaries had been struggling with how to use CRT in its scholarship. One wing wants to be more inclusive, the other side interprets CRT as “if you’re White, you’re racist,” which they say is antithetical to Biblical teachings of hope.

Conservative mainstays like The Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council began pushing anti-CRT bills to state Legislatures.

Governors in Idaho and Oklahoma signed bills forbidding the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. Legislatures in a half-dozen states considered similar bills.

Debate over the issue in Louisiana nearly shut down the session. Leadership found a path through the hard feelings to pass legislation, but the racial tension that intensified with the “good, bad and the ugly” of slavery comment still lingers.

All of which will play a role when Louisiana lawmakers gather again, probably in February, to redraw the districts from which officials are elected. Grouping voters racially is the go-to method of protecting the bases for legislators and congressmen, which to many is an ultimate example of critical race theory.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.

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