The South Dakota Board of Regents (SDBOR) has begun to reform South Dakota’s public state universities—its Regent Institutions. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) applauds these first steps towards reform. At the same time, we encourage South Dakota’s citizens, policymakers, and the SDBOR to build upon these first reforms with more thoroughgoing reform. We fear that these reforms will not be effective if they are not accompanied by a much broader and deeper reform campaign.
SDBOR has proposed a series of revisions to its official Policies. These revisions:
- provide deeper explicit textual commitment to academic freedom;
- robustly defend the articulation of “controversial views” on campus;
- direct colleges to establish procedures by which students may complain against prejudicial and/or biased grading policies;
- strengthen procedures by which intellectually dissenting guest speakers may appear on campus;
- add intellectual diversity to the rubrics which prioritize funding for guest speakers;
- strengthen the independence of student organizations from control by college administrations; and
- restrict the ability of college administrations to make arbitrary decisions about which student organizations to fund.
Separately, SDBOR has adopted a series of statements of principle which ought to strengthen higher education. They include as a notable reform the replacement of Diversity Centers (however named) with Opportunity Centers, which do not distinguish by identity group status in their provision of services to individual students.
NAS approves of all these reforms, both the detailed changes to SDBOR Policy and the statements of principle. We applaud Governor Kristi Noem, her administration, and the South Dakota Board of Regents for taking these steps to rescue South Dakota’s regent institutions from the wave of radical illiberalism that has swept over America’s education systems, both at the K-12 level and in higher education. We urge the SDBOR to give them their final approval.
At the same time, we call on SDBOR, and South Dakota policymakers, to expand their education reform program. We fear that to ask the current higher education administrations of South Dakota’s regental institutions to execute this reform program will be to leave it a dead letter. After all, it is these administrations’ misbehavior that has made these reform programs necessary. They did not misbehave accidentally, but deliberately, animated by illiberal ideology. No sober estimate of human nature justifies optimism that they will fulfil the spirit of these reforms.
Consider the replacement of Diversity Centers with Opportunity Centers. The SDBOR’s statement of principle allows regental institutions simply to rename their Diversity Centers as Opportunity Centers, and to keep their old personnel in a new office. It is far more likely that the personnel will continue their old policies under a new name than that they will change their policies. Similar critiques apply to every one of the SDBOR reforms.
We strongly urge South Dakota’s citizens, policymakers, and the SDBOR to continue and deepen their oversight of the regental institutions, to ensure that they comply with these policy changes. We especially urge policymakers to use their powers of oversight and the purse to ensure that the regental institutions appoint personnel who are dedicated to the principles of academic freedom and intellectual diversity, and will work fearlessly and effectively to ensure that South Dakota’s regental institutions live up to these principles.
We also strongly urge South Dakota’s citizens, policymakers, and the SDBOR to establish further reforms to redeem South Dakota’s public universities. We provide below a sketch of further such reforms; if the SDBOR cannot enact these, we suggest that South Dakota policymakers should undertake them themselves. But we suggest that all reform policies must take as a starting point the existence of a radical establishment that has seized control of American higher education and seeks to eliminate all dissent and all dissenters from higher education—and, indeed, from the republic as a whole. The best policies will not be effective until that radical establishment has been dislodged from its stranglehold over higher education. Indeed, no real academic freedom or intellectual diversity in higher education can be secured until that strategic goal has been accomplished. Reform policies must all work toward that end.
NAS applauds what South Dakota’s citizens, policymakers, and Board of Regents have achieved so far. When accompanied by the further reforms we recommend, they will set South Dakota on the path of true academic reform.
South Dakota Higher Education Reform: An Initial Proposal
NAS looks with favor on SDBOR’s statement and action plan—but with some key reservations. While we appreciate its intent to eliminate from South Dakota’s Regent institutions the intellectual components of Critical Race Theory (CRT), and all cognate indoctrination into illiberal ideology, we are afraid that its language defines the nature and aspirations of the Regent institutions’ academic mission in ways that invite capture by the radical left. While we recognize that the language it adopts must be the result of negotiations among South Dakota education policymakers, we urge it to revisit the language of its statement and action plan. We fear that SDBOR will not be able to accomplish its goals to restore free speech, intellectual diversity, and depoliticized teaching in higher education if it does not revise that language.
We also recommend a wider range of higher education reforms than fall within the remit of its action plan. We should emphasize that what is at issue is a wide variety of policy choices and institutional arrangements to address the widespread illiberal temper in higher education, of which CRT is only a symptom. NAS recommends that SDBOR engage in systematic reform of its Regent institutions, to address this broader problem. If SDBOR does not believe that it is in a position to enact these reforms, we recommend these reforms directly to South Dakota policymakers.
We make a series of suggestions below, as ways that the SDBOR, or South Dakota policymakers, might put its action plan into practice. Here we limit ourselves to recommendations that address SDBOR’s Action Plan’s four pairs of Objectives and Charges, which focus on Increased Opportunity, Fundamental Principles, Responsible Citizenry, and Nondiscrimination. We include recommendations to address all these points, as well as an additional one about Personnel.
1) Objective: Provide increased opportunity for all students to succeed.
Charge: Bolster student success through the implementation of “Opportunity Centers” on campus. Opportunity Centers should realign and focus campus resources to effectively assess and address the individual needs of all students. Opportunity Centers should serve as an inclusive community where all are welcome, accepted and provided access to the services needed to assist, accommodate, retain and graduate, with equal regard given to the unique challenges and needs of every student. Opportunity Centers should supplement or enhance related activities on campus specific to opportunities or challenges of cultural relevance to South Dakota.
We recommend that SDBOR take discrete steps to address academic qualification, remediation remit, personnel, terminology, and financial incentives.
- Academic Qualification. We recommend that SDBOR modify the Opportunity Centers objective to read “Provide increased opportunity for all academically qualified students to succeed.” A mandate for “success” without that qualifier is a mandate to hollow out academic standards.
- Remediation Remit. We recommend that SDBOR replace Opportunity Centers should serve as an inclusive community where all are welcome, accepted and provided access to the services needed to assist, accommodate, retain and graduate, with equal regard given to the unique challenges and needs of every student. with Opportunity Centers should provide all accepted students equal preparation to succeed at undergraduate coursework. This emendation will allow SDBOR to structure the “Opportunity Centers” exclusively as remedial instruction prior to the first college semester. This remedial instruction should have equal standards and identical pedagogies for all students, without regard to group identity. We cannot emphasize strongly enough how dedicated higher education retention administrations are to CRT. SDBOR will not be able to remove CRT from South Dakota’s Regent institutions unless SDBOR removes the bureaucracies dedicated to assistance, accommodation, and retention and limits the remit of these Opportunity Centers to remediation before students begin their regular coursework.
- Personnel. We strongly recommend that SDBOR take steps to ensure that the Regent institutions cannot simply rename organizations such as the USD Center for Diversity and Community as “Opportunity Centers.” SDBOR cannot make real reforms with continuity of personnel.
- Terminology. We strongly recommend that SDBOR eliminate, and as a second best carefully define, terms used in SDBOR’s Opportunity Centers Charge such as needs, inclusive, welcome, acceptance, and cultural relevance. Radical advocates within higher education administration now use all these terms as part of a special jargon to forward their own ideological goals; we believe SDBOR will best succeed in its goals with different, precisely defined key words.
- Financial Incentives. We recommend that SDBOR re-align each regent institution’s financial incentives so that they do not admit students who cannot succeed at undergraduate course work. We therefore recommend that SDBOR require each Regent institution to accept responsibility for 5% of student loans (including accruing interest) defaulted on by students at their institution.
2) Objective: Advance the rich tradition of American public universities, built upon free speech, scientific discovery and academic freedom.
Charge: Safeguard the fundamental principles which have made public higher education in America the standard to which others aspire by ensuring our policies and practices promote and protect the rights of students and faculty alike. The end product(s) should provide clear guidance and/or parameters, while balancing the Constitutional rights of our students and employees with the necessary discretion of the institution to manage its operations and exercise control over that which it commissions.
We recommend that SDBOR take discrete steps to guarantee freedom of speech, due process, intellectual diversity, and compliance. We believe that these discrete steps will provide substantial protection to scientific discovery and academic freedom.
- Freedom of Speech. We note that North Carolina’s Campus Free Speech law has passed into law in a large “purple” state, and therefore is a reasonable model as a first step for SDBOR policies. We recommend that SDBOR free speech guarantees include explicit mention that:
- The guarantee that First Amendment rights cannot be limited, infringed, or abrogated in any way by university policies to promote concepts or institutions such as “removing bias,” “preferred pronouns,” “safety,” “health,” “preventing harm,” and “safe spaces.”
- “Safety” and “health” involve exclusively physical matters, not emotional or mental ones.
- Students and faculty possess the freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself, as the First Amendment permits and within the limits of narrowly tailored viewpoint- and content-neutral restrictions on time, place, and manner of expression that are necessary to achieve a significant institutional interest, provided that these restrictions are clear, in writing, and provide ample alternative means of expression.
- Students and faculty possess freedom to assemble and engage in spontaneous expressive activity as long as such activity is lawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the institution.
- Access to campus for purposes of free speech and expression shall be consistent with First Amendment jurisprudence regarding traditional public forums, designated public forums, and nonpublic forums, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.
- Invited speakers shall possess the right to speak and to be heard.
- Everyone on campus, whether a member of the community, an invited speaker, or any citizen, shall possess the right to rigorous and effective defense of free speech against intimidation, threats of violence, actual violence, and reprisals; where “intimidation” is defined as “the causing of a reasonable apprehension of injury to a person or to the person’s spouse, de facto partner, child or dependent, or of violence or damage to any person or property.”
- Students, faculty, and staff possess the right of free exercise of religion.
- Student associations (especially religious ones) shall possess the right to determine eligibility for membership and qualifications for positions of leadership, free from interference by institutional mandates for diversity, inclusion, or equity concerning race, religion, class, sex, gender, gender preference, or gender identity.
- Student organizations shall possess immunity from security fees on the basis of the content of speech, including for events the content of which the university deems “controversial” or otherwise requiring extra security.
- Regent institutions must inform all students and employees of the institution’s mandate to provide First Amendment protections, including at New Student Orientation.
- Due Process. Higher education institutions now routinely violate due process—without which no other liberties can stand. We recommend that SDBOR take discrete steps to strengthen due process and that SDBOR due process guarantees include explicit mention that:
- Regent institutions must possess adjudication procedures for students and faculty with strict adherence to due process protections, including but not limited to: the presumption of innocence, the clear and convincing evidence standard, the right to counsel, the right to know what one is charged with, the right to know of all existing allegations received by college administrators, the right to access all evidence including exculpatory evidence, the right to clearly and precisely worded definitions of misconduct that follow those used in our judicial system, the right to clearly defined statutes of limitations, the right to live hearings where both accusers and witnesses can be questioned (cross-examined), and the right to speak publicly about any case.
- Regent institutions must refer all reported felonies immediately to the local police.
- Regent institutions must establish “double jeopardy” protections in adjudication procedures.
- Regent institutions must draft and circulate a written charter of enumerated due process rights guaranteed by the institution to all students and faculty.
- Regent institutions must inform all students and employees of their due process rights.
- Regent institutions must require any employee deemed a “Title IX Responsible Employee” to have been employed for at least five years in a job where at least 50% of hours worked consisted of criminal defense, and to have substantial courtroom experience.
- Regent institutions must inform all students and employees of the institution’s mandate to protect due process, including at New Student Orientation.
- Intellectual Diversity: Principles. We recommend that SDBOR deepen the commitment to intellectual diversity established by HB 1087. We recommend that SDBOR take discrete steps to strengthen intellectual diversity and that SDBOR intellectual diversity guarantees include explicit mention that:
- Regent institutions guarantee “intellectual diversity” even more strongly than required by state law, and define it as “multiple, divergent, and opposing perspectives on an extensive range of public policy issues widely-discussed and debated in society at large, especially those perspectives that reflect the range of American opinion, but which are poorly represented on campus.”
- Regent institutions must inform all students and employees of the institution’s mandate to provide intellectual diversity, including at New Student Orientation.
- Regent institutions must establish intellectual diversity rubrics for course approval, approval of courses to satisfy general education requirements, student course evaluations, common reading programs, annual reviews, departments’ strategic goals, and student learning outcomes.
- Regent institutions must prohibit ideological litmus tests in all hiring, promotion, and admissions decisions, including “diversity statements” and any other requirement that applicants describe their commitments to diversity, social justice, sustainability, equality, or inclusion.
- Regent institutions must prohibit discriminatory use of campus funding, especially by discriminating against a religious student organization because of the religious beliefs, practices, speech, membership standards, or standards of conduct of the religious student organization.
- Regent institutions must prohibit quotas and limits on the establishment of student organizations.
- Regent institutions must provide an environment free of disruption and intimidation; where “intimidation” is defined as “the causing of a reasonable apprehension of injury to a person or to the person’s spouse, de facto partner, child or dependent, or of violence or damage to any person or property.”
- Regent institutions may not endorse, oppose, or comment as an institution on policy positions concerning issues such as climate change, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity programs, immigration policy, or marriage policy, although they may endorse Congress when it establishes a state of armed hostility against a foreign power.
- Regent institutions may not engage in or abet activities such as boycotts, divestments, or sanctions.
- Regent institutions may not record, sanction, educate, mediate, assess, or take any other action to respond to any incident of “bias,” which consists of any expressed judgment on any policy position, or any expressed judgment on the characteristics of any individual or community based upon actual or perceived background or identity including: age, color, disability, gender identity or expression, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status.
- Intellectual Diversity: Office of Public Policy Events. We recommend that SDBOR establish an Office of Public Policy Events to reinforce intellectual diversity at each Regent institution. The Director of Public Policy Events will be appointed by the SDBOR and will be responsible directly to the State Legislature of South Dakota. The responsibilities of each Office of Public Policy Events shall include, at least, the following:
- Organizing, publicizing, and staging debates, group forums, and individual lectures that address from multiple, divergent, and opposing perspectives an extensive range of public policy issues widely-discussed and debated in society at large, which shall be open to all students, faculty, and staff at that institution, and, unless restricting attendance by persons unaffiliated with the university is necessary to achieve a compelling governmental interest, to the general public as well.
- Inviting speakers who hold a wide diversity of perspectives, from within and outside the campus community, to participate in debates, group forums, and individual lectures, with particular attention to inviting participants from outside the institution who hold perspectives on widely debated public policy issues otherwise poorly represented on campus.
- Providing, where necessary, honoraria, travel, and lodging expenses to participants in debates, group forums, and individual lectures organized by the Office of Public Policy Events, from outside the campus community.
- Maintaining a permanent, publicly accessible, searchable, and up-to-date calendar in print and Internet-accessible formats listing all events sponsored by the Office of Public Policy Events, and all other debates, group forums, and individual lectures open to the entire campus community at a given institution within the state university system, that address public policy issues, itemizing the title of the event or lecture, the name and institutional affiliation of the speaker or speakers, and the office, institute, department, program, or organization, that sponsored the event, excluding those events sponsored by off-campus groups in rented facilities.
- Delivering a printed and a pdf-formatted copy of the previous academic year’s annual public policy event calendar for all institutions in the state university system, arranged chronologically for each individual institution within the state university system, to the public, the Governor, and the State Legislature by September 1 of each year, and preserving and making available to the public copies of all yearly event calendars in the libraries of the state university system.
- Making publicly available a complete Internet-accessible video record of every debate, group forum, and individual lecture organized by the Office of Public Policy Events, mounting that video record on the Internet within ten in-session working days of the event in question, and maintaining that video record in a fully public, Internet-accessible form for at least five years following the date of the event. Videos records of every debate, group forum, and individual lecture organized by the Office of Public Policy Events at a given Regent Institution should also be permanently preserved within, and made available to the public through, the library of that institution.
- Providing information directly to the University Office of Reporting and Analytics (the university office responsible for compiling and reporting the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, IPEDS, Graduation Rate Survey) and to the Office of General Counsel on that campus.
- Compliance. We recommend that SDBOR ensure compliance with these policies by the following means:
- SDBOR shall establish a salaried Ombudsman responsible for ensuring that all Regent institutions follow and implement all state laws pertaining to higher education, especially the measures for Freedom of Speech, Due Process, and Intellectual Diversity catalogued above. The Ombudsman will be appointed by the SDBOR and will be responsible directly to the State Legislature of South Dakota.
- The Ombudsman shall certify the enforcement and observance of these and other provisions of South Dakota’s higher education laws in an Annual Report to the Governor, Senate and the House.
- The Ombudsman shall have the power to hear complaints of noncompliance, ensure that such complainants suffer no retaliation, conduct investigations, resolve complaints and require the cooperation of all university employees in the pursuit of these professional activities, and report both privately and publicly. The Ombudsman’s Annual Report to the Governor, Senate and House, shall detail all significant developments related to the implementation or violation of state law at South Dakota’s public universities in addition to certifying compliance with all provisions.
3) Objective: Enhance preparation of students for informed and responsible citizenry in our democratic republic.
Charge: Add, supplement and/or improve programming and training enhancing knowledge of American government and the principles upon which our country was founded; increasing civic engagement; and promoting and developing skills in communication, critical thinking, civility and dispute resolution among individuals with diverse backgrounds, beliefs and perspectives.
We recommend that SDBOR establish institutions to carry out its charge to improve programming and training enhancing knowledge of American government and the principles upon which our country was founded. We recommend that SDBOR also take steps to ensure that this charge does not permit Regent institutions to engage in Action Civics, which serves as vocational training for radical activism.
- School of Intellectual Freedom and Western and American Heritage. We recommend that SDBOR establish at each Regent institution, beginning with the University of South Dakota, a School of Intellectual Freedom and Western and American Heritage:
- The University of South Dakota shall establish a School of Intellectual Freedom, dedicated to intellectual freedom, the Western Heritage, and the American Heritage, which shall be funded by appropriations dedicated to its support by the South Dakota Legislature. The School shall operate as a single stand-alone academic entity within the University of South Dakota. The Institute shall be able to receive and administer private and external donations and gifts. The appropriated monies and all private and external donations to the School shall be used only for the direct operation of the School and may not be used for indirect costs of the university.
- The School shall promote the study of intellectual freedom, the Western Heritage, and the American Heritage by means of faculty hires, postdoctoral fellowships for younger scholars, targeted grants to faculty at South Dakota’s public universities, inviting guest speakers, and cooperation with external organizations dedicated to intellectual freedom, the Western Heritage, and the American Heritage.
- The School’s activities shall be guided by this Statement of Values:
- The School dedicates itself to the study of intellectual freedom, the Western Heritage, and the American Heritage.
- We affirm that the School will educate students by means of free, open, and rigorous intellectual inquiry to seek the truth.
- We affirm our duty to equip students with the intellectual skills they need to reach their own, informed conclusions on matters of social and political importance.
- We affirm our duty to ensure that no aspects of School life, within or outside the classroom, require, favor, disfavor, or prohibit speech or action to support any political, social, or religious belief.
- We affirm our commitment to create a community dedicated to an ethic of civil and free inquiry, which respects the autonomy of each member, supports individual capacities for growth, and tolerates the differences in opinion that shall naturally obtain in a public university community.
- These values take priority over any other value we may also adopt.
- The School shall submit a report to the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the chairs of the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Committee, and the chairs of the Joint Committee on Appropriations on or before October 1 of each year. The report shall include at least the following for the school:
- The total amount of funding received from all sources.
- A description of faculty positions and courses offered.
- The total undergraduate and graduate student enrollment.
- Significant community events, initiatives or publications.
The President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the chairs of the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Committee, and the chairs of the Joint Committee on Appropriations Committee may request the Director of the School to appear before the Committees to report on the School’s annual achievements.
- Western Heritage and American Heritage General Education Requirements. We recommend that SDBOR establish these general education requirements at each Regent institution:
- Each Regents Institution shall establish a 3-credit Western Heritage general education requirement. Courses that satisfy this general education requirement shall consist of introductory survey courses, such as Western Civilization, British Literature, or Greek Philosophy.
- Each Regents Institution shall establish a 3-credit American Heritage general education requirement. Courses that satisfy this general education requirement shall consist of introductory survey courses, such as U. S. History, American Government, or American Literature.
- Courses taken to satisfy Western Heritage and American Heritage General Education Requirements will also satisfy the Regents Institution’s Social Sciences or Humanities General Education Requirements.
- Action Civics Prohibited. We recommend that SDBOR eliminate funding for “service-learning,” “civic engagement,” and cognate activities, which have become euphemisms for social justice advocacy:
- No Regent institution may fund, facilitate, or in any way support any “Service-learning” “Service-learning Coordinator” or “Service Sponsor”.
- “Service-learning” means a method— (A) under which students or participants learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service that— (i) is conducted in and meets the needs of a community; (ii) is coordinated with an elementary school, secondary school, institution of higher education, or community service program, and with the community; and (iii) helps foster civic responsibility; and (B) that— (i) is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of the students, or the educational components of the community service program in which the participants are enrolled; and (ii) provides structured time for the students or participants to reflect on the service experience.
- “Service-learning coordinator” means an individual who provides services including— (A) planning of school-based service-learning programs, through distribution by State educational agencies, territories, and Indian tribes of State or Federal funds made available to local educational agencies and Indian tribes, which planning may include paying for the cost of— (i) the salaries and benefits of service-learning coordinators; or (ii) the recruitment, training and professional development, supervision, and placement of service-learning coordinators; and (B) providing services that may include— (i) identifying community partners; (ii) assisting in the design and implementation of a service-learning program; (iii) providing technical assistance and information to, and facilitating the training of, teachers and assisting in the planning, development, execution, and evaluation of service-learning in their classrooms; (iv) assisting local partnerships in the planning, development, and execution of service-learning projects, including summer of service programs; (v) assisting schools and local educational agencies in developing school policies and practices that support the integration of service-learning into the curriculum; and (vi) carrying out such other duties as the local partnership or entity, respectively, may determine to be appropriate.
- “Service sponsor” means an organization, or other entity, that has been selected to provide a placement for a participant in a service-learning program.
4) Objective: Promote equal opportunity and non-discrimination for all through merit-based assessment and decision making.
Charge: Supplement, revise and/or discontinue, as appropriate, any processes, procedures, standards, expectations, etc. necessary to promote a clear message of equality and merit-based decision making and/or assessment, ensuring that, whether directly or indirectly, preferential or adverse treatment on the basis of one’s identity or belief system is not occurring.
We recommend that SDBOR adopt a modified version of NAS’s model Partisanship Out of Civics Act (POCA), whose language has already been passed into law in Texas. This version of POCA does not address classroom teaching, so as to avoid raising questions of academic freedom. It addresses itself exclusively to administrative trainings, which properly are the subject of SDBOR freedom protections:
- No Regent institution shall train any administrator, teacher, staff member, or employee to adopt or believe any of the following concepts:
- one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
- an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
- an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race;
- members of one race cannot or should not attempt to treat others without respect to race;
- an individual’s moral standing or worth is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex;
- an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
- an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex;
- meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race;
- fault, blame, or bias should be assigned to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.
We recommend that SDBOR make it a strategic priority to hire administrators and faculty who will support these new goals wholeheartedly.
- Regent Institution Presidents. We recommend that SDBOR only appoint presidents who commit themselves to fulfilling the SDBOR’s new strategic priority, in their forthright words, in their actions and funding decisions, in their own appointments of administrative subordinates, and in their votes on the personnel and policies of the Higher Learning Commission and all other accrediting agencies.
- Staff Appointments. We recommend that Regent institutions establish intellectual diversity rubrics and metrics for staff hiring processes.
- Faculty Appointments. We recommend that Regent institutions establish intellectual diversity rubrics and metrics for faculty hiring and tenuring processes.
Image: Ammodramus, Public Domain