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South Dakota bill would require public universities ensure free speech, intellectual diversity

A bill before the South Dakota House of Representatives would make all outdoor spaces at the state’s public universities “public forums” and require those institutions to publish annual reports that detail the steps taken to foster intellectual diversity on campus.

“This bill protects free speech on college campuses, it removes the idea of the free speech zones and informs staff and teachers and the students of their right and responsibilities regarding free speech,” the bill’s primary sponsor, state Rep. Michael Clark, said in a phone interview with The College Fix.

Clark said he filed House Bill 1073 this month after seeing free speech come under attack at campuses in other states across the country. While noting that South Dakota hasn’t had such problems, he said it’s important to take action to ensure speakers can come to campus and speak without violence or the threat of violence.

“I’m trying to stop this before it actually becomes a huge problem,” Clark said.

If passed, Clark’s bill would require all outdoor areas of the state’s public universities to be deemed public forums and allow those participating in noncommercial activity to so uninhibited as long as their participation is lawful and does not seriously disrupt university business.

The bill does allow universities to “maintain and enforce reasonable time, place and manner restrictions,” but notes that such measures must “employ clear, published, content, and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression.”

In addition to opening up campus space for free speech, HB 1073 also seeks to promote the education of free speech policies. The bill, if passed, mandates that South Dakota’s public universities publish the free speech policies in campus handbooks, on their websites and through their orientation programs.

Additionally, the legislation calls on the public institutions to create “materials, programs, and procedures” that educate university administrators, police officers, professors and resident life officials on the free speech policies.

The proposed legislation also requires universities to file annual reports regarding their compliance that will be sent to the legislature and governor in addition to being published online.

The reports will have to include details on whether free speech was disrupted or blocked, submit an outline of steps taken to foster intellectual diversity, and require that if sued for a First Amendment violation the university must send a copy of the complaint to the governor and legislature.

When asked how he’d like to see universities promote intellectual diversity, Clark said he envisions balanced teaching in the classroom.

“Well what I hope to see is that in their lectures, that [professors] will bring in people from both sides of an issue, or from all sides of the issue, and be able to have them each speak their side to that issue,” he said.

More than two dozen South Dakota legislators have supported Clark’s bill, and the state representative said he expects that the bill will succeed this legislative session.

“This year, I honestly believe that it’s going to pass. It’s got wide support in the house and the senate. The governor’s office hasn’t said one way or the other, but I can’t imagine the governor’s office being against free speech,” Clark said.

The bill also has the support of one retired University of South Dakota professor, William Richardson, who will testify in favor of the bill at its hearing.

“I think we have all been observers to what’s been going on in a number of college campuses in the past year and half with speakers being disinvited, being shouted down, even violence greeting them,” Richardson told The Fix in a phone interview. “Obviously, in the Midwest, that is not a problem, but the problems of the coast eventually come to the Midwest.”

However, the head of the South Dakota Board of Regents, which oversees six public universities, said in a statement provided to The College Fix that the bill addresses issues that have arisen in other states and is not needed in the state.

“There is no problem in South Dakota that this bill will solve. The Board of Regents already established system-wide policies that safeguard First Amendment rights of students, employees, and private visitors,” said Mike Rush, executive director and CEO of the Board of Regents.

MORE: Campus free speech becomes a campaign issue in Florida

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About the Author
Nathan Rubbelke served as a staff reporter for The College Fix with a specialty on investigative and enterprise reporting from 2017 to 2018. He has also held editorial positions at The Commercial Review daily newspaper in Portland, Indiana, as well as at The Washington Examiner, Red Alert Politics and St. Louis Public Radio. Rubbelke graduated from Saint Louis University, where he majored in political science and sociology.