Power Line

Premoting campus freedom and intellectual diversity, the third legislative wave

My friend Stanley Kurtz has worked tirelessly with state legislatures to pass laws that protect campus free speech and promote intellectual diversity. Stanley’s efforts have paid off.

Beginning in 2015, a number of state legislatures passed laws banning so-called campus free-speech zones. Two years later came the second wave of campus reform legislation.

These laws not only abolish free-speech zones but provide for the disciplining of students who shout down visiting speakers. They also set up an oversight system to monitor the performance of administrators in upholding the law, and include numerous other free-speech protections as well.

Now, Stanley reports that a third wave of campus reform legislation may be coming. The focus of this wave is on intellectual diversity.

Banning shout downs of visiting speakers was a good start. But if conservatives speakers aren’t invited on campus, there is no need to shout them down.

Thus, Stanley, in collaboration with the National Association of Scholars, has published a model campus intellectual diversity bill. How would it work? Stanley explains:

The basic idea is to have public universities create offices of Public Policy Events, which would be charged with organizing debates, panel discussions, and individual lectures designed to explore widely debated public-policy issues from divergent and competing perspectives. So, for example, the office might arrange debates on issues like trade, immigration, abortion, the Green New Deal, or single-payer health care. The office would also invite individual speakers to address such issues at different times and from different perspectives.

The Office of Public Policy Events would publish a calendar listing all the events it organized, with the topics and speakers, and would make videos of its events available to the public. Academic departments and student groups could go on as usual inviting any speakers they like, with no requirement for balance. The Office of Public Policy Events would also publish a record of all public policy-related events on campus. This comprehensive list would give taxpayers, parents, and students a good sense of the extent of intellectual diversity available in campus public events.

In Arizona, State Representative Anthony Kern has introduced HB 2238, based on the model campus intellectual diversity bill described above. Kern sponsored a bill in 2016 that eliminated free-speech zones at Arizona’s public universities. Now, says Stanley, Kern has taken a groundbreaking step in what may turn out to be the third wave of campus-reform legislation.

Tucson.com published a generally favorable report on Kern’s bill. However, it raised the concern that that the Office of Public Policy Events might, for example, be required by law to arrange a lecture by a Holocaust denier to “balance” a lecture about the Holocaust given before a department or student group on campus.

This concern is misplaced. As Stanley explains:

There is no requirement in HB 2238 for the Office of Public Policy Events to balance talks arranged by departments or student groups on campus. The office only needs to seek for competing perspectives in the events it chooses to organize. There are no requirements in the law as to which specific issues ought to be debated. If the office doesn’t believe that a given issue is worthy of debate, it is under no obligation to arrange a debate on that topic.

The bill does contain a provision instructing the office to “prioritize inviting speakers from outside the university who hold perspectives on widely debated public policy issues that are otherwise poorly represented on campus.” This simply means that if the office decides to set up a debate on, say, the Green New Deal, and there are no professors on campus able and willing to speak against it, the office should seek speakers from outside the university to take that position in the debate.

Bills based on the model campus intellectual diversity act have been introduced in other states, as well. To be sure, filing a bill is a far cry from getting a hearing, passing both houses, and obtaining a signature from the governor.

However, as Stanley reminds us:

Just putting the issue on the table is a big step. Filing a bill sets off debate and builds attention and support. It’s not uncommon for it to take more than one legislative cycle for a new idea to get serious traction.

Thus, “with Anthony Kern’s introduction of HB 2238. . .the idea of bringing greater intellectual diversity to our public university systems has taken a very big step forward.”

STEVE adds: Stanley will be the Power Line Show podcast guest this week. The interview is already in the can and will be released Friday or Saturday.

Leave a Reply