In the South Dakota Board of Regents “Intellectual Diversity Public Conversation” yesterday, State Representative Jon Hansen gave remarks to the group that might be a different perspective than they wanted to hear – because he has first-hand knowledge of the problem that students have experienced with free speech on our university campuses:
Thank you for hosting this discussion. My name is Jon Hansen I’m a Representative from Dell Rapids. I do want to make something clear upfront. I’m proud of South Dakota universities. I’m a proud graduate of our law school. But on this issue, our own universities have followed a disturbing national trend. On campuses everywhere disagreement is said to be hatred. Intellectual diversity said to be bigotry. Speech is quelled and voices are silenced. That’s why our legislature passed House Bill 1087.
My colleagues in the House and Senate were exactly right when they wrote that “the intent of HB 1087 is to ensure the pursuit of truth.”
The solution is not difficult. Begin by teaching facts, and where the world is not black and white, it’s not your job to tell students what to think. It’s your job to teach students how to think. Indoctrination is no laudable goal, but fostering the pursuit of truth is. The people of South Dakota–those who we serve–believe that, but universities all over this country, including our own, have lost sight of that.
In my own experience, a fellow student and I sought to form the St. Thomas More Society at the law school. We immediately received significant pushback solely because our group associated with religion.
One Dean in particular was fixated on her concern that we would be “proselytizing” to all the students and that a Priest would exercise dominion over our group. We sought simply to organize and share ideas under the banner of a common set of core beliefs.
Well thankfully, another Dean intervened and opened a path for the group’s formation. But even his hands were tied. Unlike other groups, the university would not allow student funds to be distributed to our Christian group. No support for speakers or events.
Universities themselves speak when they allow for the distribution of funds to certain groups and not to others. When you did not allow the distribution of funds to a conservative, religious group, but allowed funds to groups with opposing, nontheist views–you spoke loud and clear. Your preference was made known.
Here’s another glaring contrast. When it comes to drag shows, our universities have not only advertised, but hosted drag shows on campus. The advertisement even encouraged people to bring dollar bills to tip the drag queens. But when a simple request was made to our medical school to merely advertise an event where our medical students would gather, pray, and recite the hippocratic oath–the school refused to advertise. Your preference was made known. That’s viewpoint discrimination.
These problems exist today. I know other people’s stories, but I am not at liberty to share them with you today. Why? Because the students in those situations today fear repercussion from their teachers and school if they speak out. That is unacceptable.
No student should feel pressure, fear or intimidation from any professor, dean, or administrator for exercising his or her ideas. But that pressure and intimidation is present in South Dakota today. That is unacceptable.
So allow students to be educated in a place where ideas compete and the truth can prevail. When students engage in the honest pursuit of truth in an environment where that pursuit is promoted, they will likely find it. Truth is attractive to the human soul.
So do not social engineer. Do not create safe spaces from what you somehow deem to be threatening viewpoints. Do not discriminate in funding or access to facilities based upon viewpoint. Do not create a culture of fear and intimidation for students who simply speak what they believe.
Instead, equip students with reason. Instill good judgment. Judge by the content of character. Orient toward the pursuit of truth. And let the students flourish.
If your report demonstrates that you’ve done that–then you have fulfilled the intent of the law.
Great comments! And a good example why the law was long overdue.