WASHINGTON, DC—Leaders in South Dakota and Pennsylvania have announced reforms intended to ensure that college campuses are open to a variety of views. Both states’ actions are in line with recommendations made by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni over the past year.
“These reforms are a victory for students everywhere,” ACTA president Anne D. Neal said. “They show that leaders across our country are interested in sensible ways to promote intellectual diversity while still protecting academic freedom.”
The South Dakota Board of Regents now requires all public university professors to include an “Academic Freedom Statement” on their course syllabi. It reminds students that their “academic performance may be evaluated solely on an academic basis, not on opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards.”
It also tells students that they “should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion” and names the administrator who is to help them if their rights are denied.
ACTA waged a lengthy campaign on behalf of intellectual diversity in South Dakota earlier this year. In January, a bipartisan group of legislators sponsored House Bill 1222, which would have required the state’s public universities to report specific steps taken “to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom” to the Regents. It came three votes shy of passing, earning national headlines in the process.
“HB 1222 clearly sent a message to the Regents that reform was needed,” Neal noted. “The ‘Academic Freedom Statement’ shows that the message was received and acted upon.”
HB 1222 was based on ACTA’s landmark 2005 study Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, which suggested various ways universities can ensure a robust exchange of ideas and safeguard academic freedom. The study was also the foundation of testimony ACTA gave in January 2005 to a special academic freedom committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
ACTA’s testimony asked Pennsylvania lawmakers to encourage reforms such as: self-studies to assess the state of intellectual diversity on a campus; incorporating intellectual diversity into institutional statements, grievance procedures, and course evaluations; and creating an independent ombudsman’s office dedicated to intellectual diversity.
The Pennsylvania committee has now published its recommendations, accepting many made by ACTA. They ask campuses to “review existing academic freedom policies;” “make students aware of the availability of academic freedom policies and grievance procedures during student orientation” and on student websites; “review course evaluation forms” with academic freedom in mind; “allow students to file complaints with a university official outside the student’s major,” and consider a self-study “to ensure that students receive a balanced and effective education.” The committee also requires a report to the legislature by the universities, just like that outlined by HB 1222 in South Dakota.
“ACTA’s study urgently called on colleges and universities to ensure intellectual diversity on our college campuses,” Neal concluded. “We are delighted that state leaders in Pennsylvania and South Dakota have endorsed the actions we recommended. We look forward to seeing more follow their lead.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni—dubbed “a force to be reckoned with” by The Chronicle of Higher Education—is a bipartisan, national nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability in higher education. ACTA has a network of trustees and alumni around the country and has issued numerous reports including How Many Ward Churchills?, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.