Intellectual Diversity on College Campuses

Sep 9, 2019

Story by Jackie Hendry

Earlier this year the state legislature passed a bill related to intellectual diversity on college campuses. On Friday, USD hosted a forum with administrators and legal counsel to address faculty and student concerns with the new legislation. SDPB’s Jackie Hendry reports. 

Lawmakers revived HB 1087 near the end of session after USD law students changed a party’s name from “Hawaiian Day” to “Beach Day” following a student complaint and faculty advice. A university investigation found the students’ first amendment rights were not violated, but the issue served to bolster some lawmakers’ beliefs that campuses are not fostering a variety of ideas.

Since then, posters attributed to a white nationalist organization appeared on USD campus bulletin boards without prior approval. During the forum, Board of Regents General Counsel Nathan Lukkes said existing campus policy should be followed.

“The real key is no matter what the forum is--classroom, outdoor space, bulletin board, you name it—whatever those restrictions are have to be content and viewpoint neutral, and have to be applied in a neutral or even-handed manner,”  says Lukkes.

When asked how USD takes local political views into account in the hiring process, Provost Kurt Hackemer insisted class content is dictated by the academic consensus in those fields. 

“We hire faculty here to teach those academic disciplines, to teach the content of those academic disciplines, that reflects the highest standard of those academic disciplines. That’s what we’ll continue to teach in our classes,” says Hackemer.

While some lawmakers have since expressed skepticism towards diversity centers, USD President Sheila Gestring says this law doesn’t negate those efforts. 

“Our diversity initiatives are focused on inclusion and equity. Those two things are not in conflict with House Bill 1087 in my view,” says Gestring. 

The law also requires public campuses to submit an annual report to the legislature outlining how they are fostering intellectual diversity. BOR General Council Nathan Lukkes says the exact requirements of that report are still being determined, but he says “with absolute certainty” the report will not categorize events and speakers in line with political parties.