Kansas has just become the fourth state to file a Campus Intellectual Diversity bill based on model legislation I proposed and explained here on the Corner last year. In the Kansas House of Representatives, bills are sponsored by committees, rather than by individual members. The sponsor of Kansas HB 2697 is the Committee on Education. The individual member who requested that HB 2697 be introduced is Representative Randy Garber. Garber deserves considerable credit for taking that initiative. The Kansas bill follows on similar bills introduced in Arizona, Missouri, and Iowa.
Like the other three bills, the Kansas Campus Intellectual Diversity Act instructs the public university system to stage debates, panels, and individual lectures that explore our most widely discussed public-policy controversies from diverse and conflicting perspectives. These debates, panels, and lectures will be open to the public. Videos of the events will also be posted online. The goal is to broaden the scope of viewpoints considered on campus and to educate students and the public through the clash of ideas. Frequent thoughtful debate over our sharpest national controversies should normalize disagreement and lower the emotional temperature on campus. Greater freedom of speech will result. (I lay out some additional thoughts on these bills here.)
The introduction of four intellectual diversity bills within the first two months of the 2020 state legislative session means this idea has momentum. There is considerable reason for optimism. But that doesn’t mean we should expect all four states to pass these bills into law this year. State legislative calendars are crowded. Bills often don’t get hearings right away. Many move only a year or so after they’re first filed. Some bills never get hearings at all.
Nonetheless, a successful experiment in even a single state can kickstart a national wave of laws. In 2017, the first year that comprehensive campus free speech laws were filed in state legislatures, only a couple were actually passed into law. That led to many more such laws in the following years. Any way you slice it, four different state legislatures’ proposing campus intellectual diversity bills in the first two months of the current legislative session is an encouraging sign. Stay tuned.