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Campus ideological cure could hurt most

Campus ideological cure could hurt most

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A suggestion to implement ideological affirmative action at South Dakota universities should concern everyone, including those who fear that a prevailing liberal bias chills conservative campus expression.

Government — acting as thought police — has been unkind to freethinking students in China, Russia and Cuba.

Give up a little liberty to gain a little security, and soon you will have neither, legendary University of South Dakota Prof. Michael Roche has told introductory criminal justice classes for over four decades. When government gets involved, the medicine — no matter how well-intentioned — often proves more fatal than the illness. Republican state lawmakers should hew to conservative principles and suggest remedies less threatening to freedom.

South Dakota universities have, at most, a minor liberal bias. After all, the students are mostly South Dakotans.

Lawmakers recently offered up an ideological quota as South Dakota's Board of Regents began considering how to implement House Bill 1087, "An Act to promote free speech and intellectual diversity at certain institutions of higher education." The law took effect Monday.

Lawmakers in support of HB 1087 suggested schools track the political leanings of faculty members and adjust their hiring practices to ensure balance. Only right-thinking professors need apply.

This line of thinking doesn’t always stop at higher education. Why not enter homes to enforce right thinking? Why not enter churches?

Where would universities find unbiased judges of bias? Your ideas of bias might differ from ours, and all would differ from that of a bureaucrat gathering political power by destroying all bias, real and perceived.

Affirmative action quotas would lead inevitably to the hiring of less-qualified instructors. Recall that Socrates, whom Plato described as "the wisest and most just of all men," was condemned to death for diminishing Greek gods and corrupting youth with contrary ideas.

In the Legislature, HB 1087 ultimately made it to the finish line only after allegations of censorship at USD made national headlines. The university subsequently investigated the allegations and concluded they were unfounded.

The affront involved the USD Student Bar Association renaming its "Hawaiian Day" winter social party to "Beach Day" at the urging of law school administrators after a student complained the original theme might violate an inclusiveness policy. It didn’t. The administrators were later informed of their error. Meanwhile, the student association changed the theme because this was a party, not a political statement.

Board of Regents President Kevin Schieffer, who formerly served as chief of staff to Republican Sen. Larry Pressler, told lawmakers the problem of liberal bias on state campuses was being overblown. The board already has free speech statutes that govern these matters.

David Randall, the director of research for the National Association of Scholars, warned Schieffer that South Dakota was “not as far down the road” as other states, but it was only a matter of time before an “ever thinking” orthodoxy of liberal ideology would reduce intellectual diversity.

South Dakotans should beware of anyone calling for drastic action based on what might become a problem later. Conservative overreaction to potential liberal bias is no different than liberal overreaction to unfounded discrimination.

Whatever happened to: If it ain’t broke?

Colleges, meanwhile, should remain battlefields of competing ideas rather than comfortable places of confirmation. Anything less would leave students unprepared for the serious intellectual contests that come later.

Conservative South Dakota students are not snowflakes who need protection from contrary notions. And since when does it not take courage to express political beliefs of any kind? Since when did true leadership not require finding that courage?

Prevailing ideological fashion is not the biggest danger to intellectual diversity. The biggest danger is and always has been the Inquisition, the Gestapo and the government mandate. We should tread lightly.

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