South Dakota's House Bill 1213 Falls Short

National Association of Scholars

State Representative Scott Odenbach of South Dakota has just introduced House Bill 1213 (HB 1213), to create the Dr. Nicholas W. Drummond Center for Civic Engagement at Black Hills State University. This well-intentioned proposal, alas, would be a serious lost opportunity for South Dakota. South Dakota should have an independent School at its public universities, which teaches students about America’s and South Dakota’s traditions of liberty, republican self-government, and civic virtue—and there are excellent models for such Schools in other states that it could adapt to suit South Dakota. HB 1213, unfortunately, will not achieve that purpose.

Last year Representative Odenbach introduced the similar House Bill 1070 (HB 1070), to create a Center for American Exceptionalism at Black Hills State University. We then provided our reasons that South Dakota should choose a different model for higher education reform. House Bill 1213 is briefer, but the essential point of our previous criticism still applies. The history of higher education reform, unfortunately, demonstrates that no public university can be trusted to administer Centers dedicated to liberty. The University of Missouri so mismanaged a bequest to establish professorships devoted to economic liberty that Hillsdale College had to sue the University to allow some portion of the bequest to be used as the donor intended. College presidents, deans, and provosts will co-opt any Center if they can. HB 1213, as HB 1070 before it, provides no means of defense about co-option by the radical higher education establishment.

HB 1213 also provides neither a specific governance structure, nor a specific budget, not specific course work such as American Constitutional History for the proposed Center. HB 1213, moreover, explicitly titles the center as one of “Civic Engagement,” and states that it should be devoted to “experiential learning.” These are, unfortunately, the components of “action civics”—vocational training in progressive activism at taxpayer expense. Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Thomas Lindsay of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and the National Association of Scholars all have detailed how action civics teaches students nothing more than how to conduct uninformed protest in service of radical causes. A center devoted to “civic engagement” will have an anti-civic effect.

South Dakota should have a Center devoted to teaching and research in the historical ideas, traditions, and texts that have shaped the American constitutional order and society—but a Center carefully planned to ensure that it will have its desired effect. States around the nation have begun to create such centers, from Arizona to North Carolina. Ohio provides the best model for these Centers: in 2023, Ohio funded five new Centers, with wonderful legislative language to preserve their independence, to provide a specific governing structure and a dedicated series of subjects, to provide a specific budget, and to ensure the legislature’s ability to conduct oversight and ensure accountability.

The Civics Alliance’s model legislation to create such Centers draws directly upon the Ohio model. South Dakota might well use the Ohio model, perhaps adding explicit prohibitions, tailored to preserve academic freedom, on experiential learning courses, courses that require students as a condition of passing any class to engage in activism and courses that require students as a condition of passing any class to affirm or assent to discriminatory concepts.

Should South Dakota wish to do even more to reform higher education, it might consider Utah’s Senate Bill 226, which establishes a new School of General Education to teach a core curriculum devoted to America’s traditions of liberty, republican self-government, and civic virtue.

HB 1213 would be a serious misstep in itself. It also will undermine all the hard work done by Governor Noem and the South Dakota legislature to establish reformed K-12 social studies standards, by capping excellent K-12 social studies instruction with profoundly counter-productive action civics instruction in higher education.

South Dakota should have new Centers in all its public universities, dedicated to teaching students about America’s and South Dakota’s traditions of liberty, republican self-government, and civic virtue. HB 1213, alas, will not achieve that goal. We urge South Dakota policymakers to craft a new bill, drawn upon the best legislative models in the nation, which will fulfill Representative Odenbach’s intent to reform South Dakota’s undergraduate civics education.

Photo by RebeccaDunnLevert on Adobe Stock

  • Share

Most Commented

January 24, 2024


After Claudine

The idea has caught on that the radical left overplayed its hand in DEI and is now vulnerable to those of us who seek major reforms. This is not, however, the first time that the a......

February 13, 2024


The Great Academic Divorce with China

All signs show that American education is beginning a long and painful divorce with the People’s Republic of China. But will academia go through with it?...

October 31, 2023


University of Washington Violated Non-Discrimination Policy, Internal Report Finds

A faculty hiring committee at the University of Washington “inappropriately considered candidates’ races when determining the order of offers,” provided “disparate op......

Most Read

May 15, 2015


Where Did We Get the Idea That Only White People Can Be Racist?

A look at the double standard that has arisen regarding racism, illustrated recently by the reaction to a black professor's biased comments on Twitter....

October 12, 2010


Ask a Scholar: What is the True Definition of Latino?

What does it mean to be Latino? Are only Latin American people Latino, or does the term apply to anyone whose language derived from Latin?...

September 21, 2010


Ask a Scholar: What Does YHWH Elohim Mean?

A reader asks, "If Elohim refers to multiple 'gods,' then Yhwh Elohim really means Lord of Gods...the one of many, right?" A Hebrew expert answers....