Victory for free speech in South Dakota
- New policies implemented by South Dakota's Board of Regents encourage intellectual diversity in faculty and instruct campus community members not to disrupt speech.
- The policies come after emails between state senators and the Board during the summer.
The South Dakota Board of Regents is adopting policies surrounding free speech and intellectual diversity following a year of pressure from conservative lawmakers.
The Board of Regents passed a policy encouraging freedom of expression on campus and “intellectual diversity in faculty,” referring to faculty’s political views.
“Freedom of expression includes the right to discuss and present scholarly opinions and conclusions on all matters both in and outside the classroom without Board or institutional discipline or restraint,” states a portion of the policy.
In 2018, debate regarding free speech on college campuses arose in the state legislature, where, according to the Souix Falls Argus Leader, two bills promoting free speech on college campuses failed during a legislative session, sparking a summer of pressure on the Board of Regents by conservative lawmakers, who wrote multiple letters to the Board of Regents, as reported by Campus Reform.
The new policies also mirror the concerns stated by two state legislators in an email to the Board of Regents.
According to documents obtained by Campus Reform, South Dakota state Sen. Jim Stalzer and state Rep. Sue Peterson, both Republicans, wrote that they “are also concerned with reports that university faculties are already organizing against any attempts to promote intellectual diversity.”
The two also asked the Board of Regents why colleges cannot make “intellectual diversity hires,” as they currently make “diversity hires,” referring to the lack of political diversity on college campuses.
The new policy states that while the “ideas of different members of the institutions’ community will often and quite naturally conflict,” it is not the job of the Board of Regents or institutions to “shield” those members from “viewpoints they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”
In addition, it states that all members of the campus community have a “responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect,” which the regents contend is essential to First Amendment principles.
The Board of Regents also included a section on how students and members of the campus community should conduct themselves when a speaker comes on campus, claiming that campus community members cannot interfere with the right of others to express their views.
"Concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our institutions’ community," the Board states.
While the policy states that students and community members are “free to criticize and contest” the views expressed by speakers and people on campus, they should not act in a way that would interfere with visitors’ ability to speak freely.
“To this end, the Board and the institutions have a responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it,” the policy states.
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