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Push to support intellectual diversity in South Dakota universities underway in legislature

Bill has prominent backers, adopts Board of Regents’ statement language

The South Dakota Board of Regents recently approved new policies that commits the six public colleges it oversees to supporting intellectual diversity and free speech and open debate.

Now state lawmakers are hoping to do the same.

After two legislative hiccups last year, another bill to promote intellectual diversity on South Dakota campuses has been presented. According to the South Dakota legislature’s website, House Bill 1087 was filed on Jan. 25 and sent to the House Education Committee.

The bill has prominent backers in both the state’s House and Senate: Speaker of the House Steven Haugaard and House Majority Leader Lee Qualm are listed as co-sponsors of the bill.

Additionally, Senate Majority Leader Kris Langer and Senate President Pro Tempore Brock Greenfield are both listed as co-sponsors.

Last year, state lawmakers tried passing similar bills to no avail. The Argus Leader previously reported the failed bills were criticized for being unnecessary because of Board of Regents’ existing policy.

But the newly proposed legislation appears to incorporate language from the board’s recently adopted statement that was not in a previous version of the bill.

A passage from the board’s statement reads, “Freedom of expression includes the right to discuss and present scholarly opinions and conclusions on all matters both in and outside the classroom without Board or institutional discipline or restraint.”

House Bill 1087 includes an almost-identical definition of free expression, stating that it “includes the right to discuss and present scholarly opinions and conclusions on all matters, within the boundaries of a public institution of higher education, whether outdoors or indoors, without fear of institutional discipline or restraint.’

Rep. Sue Peterson, a sponsor of the bill, previously told The College Fix via email that the goal in 2019 is to lock in the South Dakota Board of Regents’ reforms via legislation.

“We are very pleased that the Board of Regents has adopted the promotion of intellectual diversity as official policy for South Dakota universities,” she said. “We believe, however, that we must lock in these reforms by way of concrete steps toward implementation of the policy and via legislation.”

MORE: South Dakota’s public universities told to protect intellectual diversity

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