South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem issued a letter on May 25 to the governing board that oversees the six public universities in the state. In it, she lamented about the situation of higher education in the country, and challenged the board to a series of actions to "show the nation what quality higher education is supposed to look like."
Among several points, the Republican governor told the board it should ban drag shows on university campuses, and, separately, remove all preferred pronouns in school materials, as well as remove all mandates that compel people to use preferred pronouns.
However, what appears to be the priority is the first point of action she raised, which is that the board should aim to raise graduation rates across its six universities to 65 percent by 2028, compared to the current graduation rate of 47 percent. Meanwhile, in 2020, the national graduation rate was 63 percent.
"For those who choose to start attending a university after graduating, less than half are graduating. We must do better than that. I look forward to working with you all on ideas to improve our graduation rates."
'State of Crisis'Noem said that higher education across the United States is in a "state of crisis."
"For the last several decades, many states have allowed liberal ideologies to poison their universities and colleges. Once a hotbed of ideological diversity, debate, and the pursuit of truth and discovery, many institutions have become one-sided, close-minded, and focused on feelings rather than facts," she wrote.
"Professors have discarded reason and logic in favor of subjectivity and relativism. Higher education leaders have rejected universal truth and knowledge and replaced it with 'individual truth.'"
She said that students on campuses across the United States "have been taught the importance of diversity and equity and given access to 'safe spaces' instead of learning to tolerate the disagreement, discomfort, and dissent that they will experience in the real world."
"In many cases, students and their parents are not even aware of the damage these ideas have caused," she said.
Regarding drag shows, she wrote: "Just as other dangerous theories have been allowed to thrive on college campuses, gender theory has been rebranded and accepted as truth across the nation.
"These theories should be openly debated in college classrooms, but not celebrated through public performances on taxpayer-owned property at taxpayer-funded schools."
Regarding preferred pronouns, she wrote that mandating them at some campuses has "compelled and coerced" some students to "provide speech they do not agree with."
"Students should have the ability to exercise their right to free speech. Colleges and universities should never compel students to speak or take a position on any issue," the governor said.
Noem also told the board her administration has created a new whistleblower hotline where students, faculty members, parents, or taxpayers, can report concerns at institutions of higher education in the state, by calling 605-773-5916.
5 Other PointsBesides raising graduation rates, banning drag shows, and removing preferred pronouns and their enforcement, Noem noted that some universities have restricted speech on topics some people find "offensive."
"The Board of Regents should remove any policy or procedure that prohibits students from exercising their right to free speech," she said.
"Black Hills State University was recently challenged on and ultimately removed a policy that allowed administrators to silence opinions they disagreed with," the governor noted, adding that colleges and universities should review and revise all policies that infringe on students' right to free speech. The colleges should also adopt policies that "develop and strengthen resiliency among students" for when they encounter opposing ideas.
Noem also wanted the Board of Regents to "take more steps to partner with businesses on registered apprenticeship programs and offer the lowest possible credit rates." She noted that roughly 43 percent of students who graduated still found themselves unemployed or underemployed.
The other three action points she presented to the board were: to cut costs to make higher education more affordable; to require a course in American Government and a course in American history as part of graduation requirements; and to remove any monetary influence, whether by funding or donations, from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
"The [CCP] has been known to fund Confucius Institutes and other similar centers at American universities in order to provide skewed Chinese cultural training for U.S. students," said Noem.
"This is part of a multi-faceted propaganda effort, and money from the CCP has no place in South Dakota. The Board of Regents should reject any donations from sources and any other government that is hostile to the United States."