The New Wave of Intellectual Diversity Legislation

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 2/23

NAS is pleased to hear that state representatives Mike Moon (R-MO) and Sandy Salmon (R-IA) have joined Anthony Kern (R-AZ) in introducing campus intellectual diversity bills to their respective state legislatures. All three are modeled after Stanley Kurtz’s NAS-endorsed Campus Intellectual Diversity Act (CIDA) drafted in 2019. Kurtz himself describes these bills as what may be a “new wave of state-level legislation designed to increase viewpoint diversity throughout America’s public-university systems.”

The last wave of legislation was designed to safeguard free expression on public campuses— Wisconsin’s S.B. 403 is a good example. This bill would require all schools within the University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Technical College Systems to implement free expression policies that 1) reaffirm the university’s primary purpose of fostering disinterested scholarship and 2) punish those who interfere with free expression. Most notably, the bill would suspend a student after two major infractions and expel them after a third. These are necessary provisions and represent negative movement towards intellectual diversity. That is, they protect the environment necessary for viewpoint diversity to flourish by telling faculty, students, and administrators what they can’t do. Free expression is the wellspring of higher education through which all else flows, so it’s only logical to protect it as a first step.

This (potential) new wave of legislation started by Arizona, Missouri, and Iowa takes efforts a step further through positive movement. Rather than requiring punishment for those who disrupt free expression, these new bills actively promote intellectual diversity through the creation of an Office of Public Policy Events. Each public college and university in the state would be required to establish such an office, an entity responsible for hosting debates, forums, and lectures featuring speakers of diverse viewpoints. 

The fundamental goal of these offices is to ensure that intellectually-diverse discourse occurs somewhere on campus rather than nowhere, which is the unfortunate state of most campuses today. Offices of Public Policy Events would be stand-alone entities, allowing academic departments and student groups to be as biased as they please. Viewpoint diversity in higher education is too important to wait for academic culture to change—it must be pursued by other means, and we trust that its undeniably-positive effects will stimulate large-scale change throughout academia.

NAS supports the legislative efforts of representatives Kern, Moon, and Salmon and urges their state legislatures to take this important step toward intellectual diversity.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Paul R. Burley, Public Domain

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