WASHINGTON, DC—A bill has been introduced in South Dakota which will require higher education institutions to report annually on concrete steps taken to ensure the free exchange of ideas on their campuses.
House Bill 1222 was filed by Rep. Phyllis M. Heineman, chairman of the South Dakota House Committee on Education, mandating that the South Dakota Board of Regents require institutions they govern to report on specific steps taken “to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom.” The bill suggests a variety of measures institutions can take, but leaves the contents of the report—which will be made public—up to each reporting institution.
More than thirty legislators have co-sponsored the bill, including both Democrats and Republicans.
The bill comes in the wake of a national initiative, launched by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, to ensure the free exchange of ideas on college and university campuses. In a report released last month, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, ACTA outlined steps universities could take to encourage a mix of ideas on campus and to respond to the growing public concern about the lack of intellectual diversity.
“As legislators we have many good reasons to request a report that assures taxpayers, parents, students and faculty that South Dakota’s public campuses are committed to intellectual diversity and a free exchange of ideas,” said Rep. Heineman (R-Dist. 13), who introduced the bill. “$528,538,576 of them are our dollars invested (2007 budget request); 30,720 of them are our students enrolled; and over 5000 are faculty and staff employed.”
“This has become a nationwide topic with some troublesome situations in some campuses across the country. Reacting to this growing concern, the American Council on Education, in which virtually all of our South Dakota higher ed institutions are members, issued a statement on Academic Rights & Responsibilities. It acknowledged the importance of intellectual diversity and noted that this statement could be a resource for policymakers,” said Heineman. “Accordingly, we are asking for a report on measures taken on each campus to assure this environment. We suggest some contents, but leave it to the university to create its unique format making it a readable and useful public document.”
Rep. Gerald Lange (D-Dist. 8), who co-sponsored the bill, believes that providing an open forum for diverse points of view is rooted in the Bill of Rights itself. “It’s a no brainer,” said theretired professor. “It’s in the Constitution.”
“Intellectual diversity and the opportunity to be exposed to a full range of ideas and philosophies is the heart and soul of a college education,” said co-sponsor Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-Dist. 5). “College is about learning and maturing and developing through exposure to all of the ideas that unite and divide us as a society. This legislation is about self-examination by the system to ensure that no part of the college experience is lost to our students.”
Ryan Brunner, President, South Dakota State University Students’ Association, welcomed the proposed legislation. “Intellectual diversity promotes critical thinking that is an integral part of a college education. A report on intellectual diversity at universities would help identify areas of improvement, as well as praise the steps the Board of Regents has already taken. South Dakotauniversities have taken steps to promote intellectual diversity and a report will give us a chance to highlight those steps.”
“The legislators deserve our praise for emphasizing the importance of intellectual diversity and doing so in a way that is sensitive to the concerns of the academy,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “By giving a mandate to the board of trustees who already are legally responsible, the legislature has properly placed the burden on the institutions themselves, rather than inserting itself in an inappropriate way.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a national education nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability.