In December 2018, the Board of Regents adopted policies promoting intellectual diversity and free speech. Three months later the Legislature passed a law requiring annual reports on intellectual diversity. Last month the board held hearings on it. Much work remains, but we have some starting points we’d like to share publicly to encourage feedback.
First, it’s clear that our campuses don’t have the problems with the lack of free speech or diversity that capture national headlines. There’s no fire to put out. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect or that we don’t have work to do. But take comfort that common sense hasn’t left South Dakota.
Intellectual diversity at our universities is important. But we oppose misguided versions of it at the expense of intellectual integrity. Mandating louder voices from one ideological or political perspective to “balance” those of the opposite ideology is not education. Loud and even extremist voices should not be feared or quashed. However, they should be neither mandated nor confused with intellectual rigor. Extremist liberal or conservative intolerance and filibuster inhibit free thinking and speech — and undermine critical thinking skills. We cannot allow the polarized ideological forces that program the bloviated talking heads of cable news to marginalize academic rigor at our universities.
We support and will pursue proposals that define, measure and minimize problems if they exist. We oppose proposals that would require ideological testing during faculty hiring or promotion. That would be destructively chilling. We care how teachers teach, not how they vote. We will implement measures to ensure students receive a balanced presentation of ideological perspectives and provide student protections against being punished for contrary beliefs.
We encourage controversial speech from all quarters. We think our universities do a good job of that now and support documentation of ideological balance and non-discrimination. We oppose proposals to create a new bureaucracy of university officials to fund and manage speech. Free speech is important to education. Forced speech undermines it.
We support suggestions to ensure that existing university diversity centers are balanced and focused on promoting and enhancing cultural diversity, and that they are not pushing excess liberal or extreme ideological agendas. We will explore that in greater detail and issue a separate report on our findings and actions. We oppose eliminating or slashing diversity centers’ funding, however. They are important to the educational experience and critical for business — as attested to by the chambers of commerce and other business leaders.
In summary, we should not inhibit or promote ideologies of the Left or the Right. They should all be presented, but none dictated. Balance and common sense are important. Student learning is and must remain the focus of the university experience. Exposure to diverse ideas in political, philosophical, scientific, literary, artistic and other disciplines is an important part of that experience. Manipulated indoctrination into any one of them undermines it. Students overwhelmingly support free speech and diversity but oppose being forced to fund disruptions by media-starved extremists. We are committed to that end.
Kevin V. Schieffer is president of the South Dakota Board of Regents.
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