Thursday, February 09, 2006

Intellectual diversity bill passes South Dakota House 

The South Dakota House of Representatives passed an intellectual diversity bill yesterday on a 42-26 vote. The bill is a reporting requirement only, to wit:

The Board of Regents shall require each institution under its control to annually report to the Legislature detailing the steps the institution is taking to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas. For purposes of this chapter, intellectual diversity is defined as the foundation of a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, and other perspectives.

It then asks for information on steps taken "to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom". The claim of South Dakota academicians is that political bias on campuses is a problem elsewhere, but not South Dakota. One legislator, Joel Dykstra, responded:

Here in South Dakota, we may be able to avoid the national trend, but our academic community should not be afraid of intellectual diversity. We should recognize it as an introduction of alternative ideas.

Excellent point. What are they afraid of? I think mostly that they don't want to be the first state that has it. From the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning (subscribers link):

"Unfortunately, it sends the message to the higher-education community that there are problems in South Dakota that need political intrusion to solve," said Robert T. (Tad) Perry, executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents. "Nothing could be farther from the truth."

The South Dakota Senate should vote later this month on the bill. Passage seems likely. If the Board of Regents wishes to avoid HB 1222 becoming law, it could follow Colorado's example of voluntarily adopting the Student Bill of Rights into its student handbooks and provide for their enforcement. They could then report this to the Legislature once, in return for which you could void the law.

South Dakota Politics has followed the story, and also reports on an action at the University of Iowa. Its president, David Skorton, has recently accepted the presidency of Cornell University, and his first mention of diversity in his acceptance speech was intellectual diversity. I will see what more I can learn about the Iowa story.

See also ACTA.