New Policy Supports Freedom of Speech and Intellectual Diversity

National Association of Scholars

NAS is very pleased to learn that the South Dakota Board of Regents, who oversees the University of South Dakota (USD) university system, have adopted a strong statement endorsing freedom of speech and intellectual diversity at USD.

The Board recognizes that practical “limitations on that freedom [of speech] are necessary to the functioning of the institution … the institution may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the institution.” Yet the Board declares firmly that these are strictly limited exceptions.

Most importantly, the Board states that “concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our institutions’ community.” It also specifies that “encouraging intellectual diversity in faculty and fostering the ability of members of the institutions’ community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the institutions’ educational missions,” and that members of the university community “may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the conduct of the institutions or the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”

Every Board of Regents and Board of Trustees in the country, both at public and private institutions, should issue a similar statement—the South Dakota’s Board of Regents’ statement is an excellent model.

The details still need to be put into practice—the Board stated a principle, and USD administrators need to draft the regulatory details. We encourage the Board to maintain their proud tradition of careful, responsible oversight, and make sure the USD administration follows through with regulations that live up to the spirit of the Board’s statement.

We particularly urge the Board to make sure that the USD administration provides a practical means for assessing how well USD’s administration and departments encourage intellectual diversity in faculty. America’s universities would not have a problem with freedom of speech if an authoritarian left monoculture had not become endemic among the professoriate. Our universities can only be restored to good health when the authoritarian left loses its stranglehold over faculty appointments and tenure.

Nor should the Board have to do its work alone. We encourage the South Dakota legislature to resume its efforts to guarantee free speech on campus. While South Dakotans know best how to manage their own affairs, we recommend they consider basing free speech legislation on the Goldwater Institute’s model Legislative Proposal for Campus Free Speech. The Goldwater Institute’s model is carefully drafted, and carefully balances free speech protections with university autonomy and practical feasibility.

But even if the South Dakota legislature defers action for now, the South Dakota Board of Regents has done excellent work already. The National Association of Scholars applauds what they have done and encourages all Americans who champion higher education to follow in their footsteps.

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