South Dakota is one of the latest states to adopt legislation promoting free speech and intellectual diversity at its public universities. South Dakota Board of Regents will hold a public hearing on intellectual diversity in higher education on June 26. The purpose of the hearing is to develop the most effective and responsible means of fulfilling the new legislative requirements regarding intellectual diversity. The Martin Center provided several recommendations on the new law’s implementation.
The complete list of recommendations are detailed below.
Baseline assessment on the degree to which South Dakota public universities are or are not providing “a learning environment that exposes students to and encourages exploration of a variety of ideological and political perspectives.”
In order to create a culture of free inquiry and open dialogue, and before universities can effectively take proactive steps, universities must first identify their written policies and practices that are destructive to freedom of expression on campus.
The most reliable extant measure of impediments to the provision of a free and open learning environment is the free speech rating system created by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE monitors most public universities in the U.S. to determine whether they have unconstitutional speech policies that restrict the speech of students and faculty. All of the South Dakota institutions that FIRE rates fall short of providing an environment that completely protects the expressive rights of students.
The existence of Bias Response Teams is also hostile the open environment that HB 1087 seeks to create. In 2017, FIRE published a nationwide survey of 232 Bias Response teams showing that many such teams call upon students to report each other and faculty for protected speech, including political speech. The existence of such teams is necessarily chilling to freedom of expression and open discourse. Identification of any Bias Response Teams in the South Dakota system is necessary to fully assess the degree to which South Dakota’s public institutions are hostile to a range of ideological and political perspectives.
Each campus should also be examined to determine which (if any) proactive measures campuses have taken to create a heterodox learning environment. These metrics—including hosting campus debates and funding ideologically diverse student groups—are detailed below, since they should be used both pre- and post-reform.
Suggestions on how to better provide “a learning environment that exposes students to and encourages exploration of a variety of ideological and political perspectives.”
Each institution should:
- Create written policies that clearly and consistently protect the expressive rights of students and faculty. Rewrite or repeal policies that punish or discourage student speech;
- Cease the use of Bias Response Teams on campus;
- Include a session on the importance of free speech and civil discourse during freshman orientation so that students coming to campus learn the value of free expression and lively debate and come to expect it as an important aspect of academic life;
- Refrain, as an institution, from making statements on the public policy controversies of the day;
- Create a range of disciplinary sanctions for anyone under the jurisdiction of the institution who materially and substantially interferes with the free expression of others; and
- Encourage faculty, student groups, and campus centers and institutes to host debates and discussion panels featuring speakers with diverse viewpoints.
In addition, we concur with the suggestions of the National Association of Scholars in the sections entitled “Foster Classroom Intellectual Diversity,” “Limit Discretionary Power to Restrict Intellectual Diversity,” and “Protect Intellectual Diversity in All Hiring, Promotion, and Funding Decisions” in Peter Wood’s May 31 letter on the topic of HB 1087.
Metrics to help define progress in the future
Each institution should be evaluated yearly using the following criteria:
- Does the institution have a useful, accessible campus calendar that lists relevant campus events (speakers, debates, etc.)?
- How many debates and/or panels featuring speakers with diverse viewpoints have been hosted by the campus?
- How many incidents of shout-downs or disinvitations have occurred on campus?
- If funds are provided to student groups, has that funding gone to groups with diverse viewpoints?
- Does the summer reading assignment (if applicable) appeal to students from various ideological perspectives?
The Martin Center is dedicated to promoting knowledge over credentials, restoring genuine liberal learning, and ensuring that public investment in higher education provides value to students, taxpayers, and society. Please click here to read our full letter to South Dakota Board of Regents President Schieffer.