WASHINGTON, DC—In a major victory for academic freedom and intellectual diversity, the South Dakota House of Representatives today approved a bill requiring all higher education institutions to report annually on concrete steps taken to ensure the free exchange of ideas on their campuses. The bill comes in the wake of a national initiative, launched by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), to ensure the free exchange of ideas on college and university campuses.
“This is a Tipping Point moment—one that offers the promise of a cultural transformation in American higher education,” said ACTA president Anne Neal. “The South Dakota House has signaled that intellectual diversity matters and their bill is a model for the nation. HB 1222 affirms the importance of intellectual diversity while remaining sensitive to the principles of academic freedom and shared governance.”
The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House, with bi-partisan support, and is the first of its kind to pass anywhere in the nation. HB 1222 was filed by Rep. Phyllis M. Heineman, chairman of the House Committee, “to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom.” Although it offers possible measures to promote intellectual diversity, the bill leaves the contents of the report—which will be made public—up to each reporting institution.
ACTA President Anne Neal appeared on Tuesday before the South Dakota House Education Committee to discuss intellectual diversity and the South Dakota bill. Neal addressed the committee at the request of Rep. Heineman who publicly thanked ACTA for providing advice and counsel on the drafting of the legislation.
“The fact is, saying one believes in intellectual diversity is not enough,” said Neal. “Indeed, if all existing practices and policies were sufficient, there would not be the volume of studies and surveys showing there is a serious problem. Rep. Heineman and her South Dakota colleagues have found a model legislative answer to a serious problem,” said Neal.
The bill places the obligation of ensuring intellectual diversity on the trustees. In a distinct departure from other legislative efforts, the bill focuses on implementation—actual steps taken to ensure diversity—rather than policy statements.
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. Those suggestions are incorporated into the text of the South Dakota bill.
The American Council of Trustees an Alumni is a national higher education nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence and accountability. Founded in 1995, ACTA isdedicated to advancing intellectual diversity through its network of 12,000 alumni and trustees from South Dakota and all 50 states.