As part of an ongoing nationwide backlash against politically correct restrictions on free speech in higher education institutions, a new “campus intellectual diversity” law in South Dakota that takes effect July 1 will require the state’s universities to respect free speech rights, promote intellectual diversity, and submit annual reports detailing their efforts.
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), 17 states have enacted campus free speech protections. Critics say some of the protections lack adequate enforcement mechanisms.
The most recent bill to be signed, as opposed to implemented, is Texas Senate Bill 18, which Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed into law earlier this month. Although the bill “falls short by failing to provide any mechanism for individuals or the state attorney general’s office to enforce the rights provided in the bill if a school is not in compliance,” FIRE said it was “cautiously optimistic that institutions will comply.”
Supporters are optimistic that the new South Dakota law will help to foster true intellectual diversity, as opposed to what they decry as the left-wing multiculturalist version of diversity that treats all cultures as equal and pressures students to conform.
The new law, known as HB 1087, prevents colleges from creating so-called free speech zones that limit free speech to a specific area on campus and requires the South Dakota Board of Regents, which administers the state’s six public universities, to file with the governor and state lawmakers a report each year identifying “events or occurrences” that hinder intellectual diversity.
“Our university campuses should be places where students leave their comfort zones and learn about competing ideas and perspectives,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, said upon signing the bill in March. “I hope this bill lets the nation know that in South Dakota, we are teaching our next generation to debate important issues, work together to solve problems, and think independently.”
State Rep. Sue Peterson, a Republican who spearheaded the bill, told The College Fix when the bill passed: “We are thrilled that South Dakota has become the first state in the nation to adopt legislation requiring universities to promote intellectual diversity and not simply be dominated by the left.”
Peterson referred to this leftist domination as “a national epidemic which has undermined the education of thousands of students and fueled out-of-control political correctness at the expense of hard-working taxpayers.”
Lawmakers question how much having diversity officers on campus helps students, and say they too often promote left-wing ideology.
“While beneficial programs for Native American students, and students of other diverse cultures should be preserved, the build-up of diversity offices which are used to promote social justice causes associated with the political left such as safe zone training, the biannual drag show, and social justice training, to name just a few, should be dismantled,” lawmakers wrote in a letter to educators. They estimate diversity offices employ 31 people and cost almost $6 million annually.
“Whatever they’re spending on the diversity offices, it isn’t making a very good impact,” said Peterson.
The new South Dakota law comes after Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, signed HB 254 into law March 26.
The measure protects free speech at his state’s public colleges and universities by guaranteeing students the “broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, learn, and discuss any issue.” It also mandates that schools maintain “a marketplace of ideas where the free exchange of ideas is not suppressed” and forbids the use of restrictive free speech zones.
Colorado and Tennessee enacted similar laws in 2017.
President Donald Trump responded to a wave of incidents that challenged free speech at institutions of higher learning by issuing Executive Order 13864, titled “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities.”
Signed March 21, the order declares it federal policy to “encourage institutions to foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging, and diverse debate,” and directs the nation’s colleges and universities to defend free speech on campus or lose federal research funding.
Citing the prevalence of speech codes, safe spaces, and trigger warnings, Trump accused offending universities of trying “to restrict free thought.”
“But even as universities have received billions and billions of dollars from taxpayers, many have become increasingly hostile to free speech and to the First Amendment,” the president told an audience at the White House. “You see it all the time. You turn on the news and you see things that are horrible.”