We may now be in the early days of a new wave of state-level legislation designed to increase viewpoint diversity throughout America’s public-university systems. Earlier this week I announced that campus intellectual diversity bills had been filed in the Arizona and Missouri state legislatures. Today I can announce that a State Representative Sandy Salmon has filed a campus intellectual diversity bill in Iowa, H. F. 2185.
Salmon (Iowa Dist. 63) is a veteran who describes herself as a constitutional, fiscal, and pro-life conservative. (You can read more about her here.) I’ve known Salmon for a couple of years, through her interest in education generally, and campus free speech in particular. Her leadership ability stands out. I’ve been particularly impressed by Salmon’s ability to marshal co-sponsors for her legislative initiatives.
In this case, Salmon has assembled six co-sponsors for H. F. 2185: Tedd Gassman, Terry Baxter, Thomas Gerhold, Tom Jeneary, Jeff Shipley, and Skylar Wheeler. It’s notable that Gassman serves as Vice Chair of the House Education Committee, while Shipley, Wheeler, and Salmon herself are Education Committee members.
Salmon’s Iowa Campus Intellectual Diversity Act, like the bills recently filed in Arizona and Missouri, is inspired by the model bill I published last year in collaboration with the National Association of Scholars. That model has been endorsed by the National Association of Scholars, and by Mark Bauerlein at Minding the Campus. I explain the proposal in detail and discuss potential objections to it here.
The basic idea is simple. The legislation instructs the public university system to stage regular debates, panel discussions, and individual lectures designed to explore the most widely debated public-policy issues of the day from diverse and competing perspectives. That means the University of Iowa would put on debates and panel discussions on issues like tax policy, religious liberty, the Green New Deal, U.S. policy in the Middle East, immigration, single-payer health care, etc. Speakers could come from on campus or off. Especially when professors able and willing to advocate for a particular position are thin on the ground on campus, the university would invite guest speakers to take a given side in the debates.
The university will keep a record of all the public policy events it arranges and will make videos of the debates and talks it organizes available to the public. A more general listing of all public-policy related events on campus will also be compiled. This will provide a quick snapshot of the level of intellectual diversity available at a given institution, at least when it comes to public-policy events. Academic departments and student groups would go on as before, with no requirement to balance their invited talks. Salmon’s bill is notable for specifying that the university should do all of this using current employees. That means that H. F. 2185 will entail no new hires.
We are still at a very early stage in the effort to bring greater intellectual diversity to campus through state-level legislation. Filing a bill in no way guarantees a hearing, much less passage by two houses, or a governor’s signature. That said, the filing of three campus intellectual diversity bills within about the first month of the 2020 state legislative session is an encouraging sign. More states may follow, whether this year or next. The idea is out there now, and it seems to be catching on. Only time will tell, but for now at least, indications are encouraging.