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Utah governor: Public colleges should be neutral on Israel-Hamas, abortion

New higher ed resolution creates campus neutrality, free speech expectations

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox urged college administrators Friday not to make public statements about controversial political issues after the state higher education board passed a resolution calling for neutrality.

The Republican governor said he strongly supports free speech for students, faculty, and staff, but public colleges and universities should not take stances on issues like the Israel-Hamas conflict or abortion, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

“The minute our institutions say this is the correct idea of the day, then what you have done is you have sent a message to other students that their ideas are not welcome at your institution, that there is not room for debate,” Cox said at a news conference with the Utah Board of Higher Education.

A free speech resolution, which Cox supports, passed the board Friday. Among other things, it requires public institutions to establish policies that “maintain institutional neutrality” on issues that “do not directly relate” to their mission.

The resolution also makes it clear that faculty, staff, students, and community members are exempt from the requirement. It tells public institutions to encourage diversity of thought and host forums to “express conflicting, controversial, or unpopular viewpoints.”

Many colleges and university presidents have faced criticism this fall for taking — or not taking — a stance on the Hamas terrorist attack Oct. 7 on Israel and the subsequent conflict.

Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, for example, faced fierce backlash from wealthy donors disgruntled by how the schools responded to Hamas’ slaughter and kidnapping of Israeli civilians.

In Utah, Cox said university presidents should resist pressure to release public statements on any given “issue of the day.” And those who personally feel compelled to make such statements should quit and go into politics instead, he said, according to the Tribune.

“I do not care what your position is on Israel and Palestine. I don’t,” Cox said. “I don’t care what your position is on Roe v. Wade. We don’t need our institutions to take a position on those things.”

As part of the resolution, the governor and the state higher education board also urged higher education institutions to take action against cancel culture.

The new directive tells schools to intervene against attempts to restrict free speech, such as shouting down, blocking, or threatening a speaker on campus, and provide security at events when needed.

Cox said he fully supports the right to protest, but the cancel culture that has arisen on college campuses in recent years goes too far.

“Protesting, that’s great,” he said. “We want young people to explore their ideas and to learn that maybe some of their ideas are wrong; however, we will not on our campuses in Utah permit groups of students from canceling other people in their views at their events. Protest if you want. But you have to make space for others.”

Other sections of the resolution instruct public colleges and universities to establish a process to address free speech violations, cultivate academic freedom through faculty research and publications, and educate new students about protected speech.

MORE: UMich shuts down dueling student votes to either condemn Israel or seek peace

IMAGE: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox/Facebook

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.