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Despite changes, bill to end “viewpoint discrimination” still draws ire from college faculty

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Despite changes, bill to end “viewpoint discrimination” still draws ire from college faculty

Feb 22, 2024 | 6:15 am ET
By Casey Smith
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Despite changes, bill to end “viewpoint discrimination” still draws ire from college faculty
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The House Education Committee moved a controversial higher education bill Wednesday. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Indiana’s House Education Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to move a controversial bill that seeks to push speech in college classrooms toward “intellectual diversity.”

Debated language from the original draft of the proposal — which would have given House and Senate majority leaders the power to choose some members of the boards of trustees at Hoosier public colleges and universities — was removed before the vote, however.

Sen. Spencer Deery, R-West Lafayette, who authored Senate Bill 202, said it adds protections to state law to ensure professors can’t be retaliated against “for criticizing administrators for the content of your research or for your outside political views.”

But Democrats and college faculty continue to disagree.

An attempt by Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, to further amend — and essentially gut Deery’s bill — was rejected on Wednesday.

“This (bill) is simply unnecessary and will embarrass us and will cost us contracts, cost us faculty, and reduce our academic reputation,” DeLaney said. “This is one more attack on institutions, for its own sake, so that we can wear a badge saying, ‘I attacked an institution.’ … We do not need to add the universities to the list of people we don’t like.”

The bill is now headed to the full Republican-controlled House chamber. The Senate approved the proposal earlier this month on party lines.

What’s left in the bill

Deery and other Republican lawmakers contend that conservative students and faculty members are increasingly ostracized at progressively liberal college and university settings — or at least perceive such shunning.

His bill would require institutional boards of trustees’ existing diversity committees to consider “intellectual diversity” alongside cultural diversity in employment policies and faculty complaints.

The legislation would additionally require the committees to make recommendations promoting recruitment and retention of “underrepresented” students rather than the “minority students” specified in current law. 

The measure re-shapes tenure and promotion policies, too.

Boards of trustees would be required to prevent a faculty member from getting tenure or a promotion if the board thinks the member is “unlikely to foster a culture of free inquiry, free expression and intellectual diversity” and unlikely to offer students scholarly works from a range of “political or ideological frameworks.” Boards could also dock members considered likely to bring up personal political views unrelated to their specific field or class.

The bill also mandates that boards conduct reviews of tenured professors every five years based on the above, as well as if faculty members “adequately” carry out academic duties and more.

Institutions would additionally be required to adopt policies establishing disciplinary actions — termination, demotion, salary cuts and more — for tenured faculty members who fail those reviews.

Boards would get wide latitude in making those policies. The bill says decisions would be based on past performance “or other determination by the board.”

Still, a separate amendment to the bill approved on Wednesday bars board policies from considering the following when determining’ tenure and promotion:

  1. Expressing dissent or engaging in research or public commentary on subjects.
  2. Criticizing the institution’s leadership. 
  3. Engaging in any political activity conducted outside the faculty member’s teaching or mentoring duties at the institution.

“The intent of the bill is to put in the code for the first time protections for tenured faculty against retaliation, for the content of the research, for criticizing the administration,” said Deery, who served more than a decade as deputy chief of staff at Purdue University, including under former governor and Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

“It was pointed out to me that the way it was worded may have not been as strong as I intended, so this makes it clear that those protections extend both to the awarding of tenure, as well as the post-tenure review,” he continued.

Opposition continues

Professors who testified against the proposal last week emphasized that Indiana campuses would struggle to recruit faculty if the bill becomes law.

Faculty councils at multiple Hoosier schools, including Indiana, Purdue and Ball State universities said Wednesday they remain vehemently opposed to the bill.

The Indiana Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) said in a statement that its members are adamant to “keep big government out of university classrooms.” 

“Faculty, students, and administrators statewide see Senate Bill 202 as government interference in education,” the statement said.

Moira Marsh, an IU Bloomington librarian and president of the Indiana AAUP State Conference, further called the bill “bad for students, bad for higher education, and bad for Indiana.” 

“It will create an atmosphere of suspicion in the classroom and on campus, subject faculty to discipline by inexpert people, and create a brain drain from our state,” Marsh said. “Indiana’s public universities are world-famous, and the AAUP is determined to keep them that way. We will keep fighting to keep this costly and damaging bill from becoming law.”

DeLaney maintained it’s not lawmakers’ job “to run the universities in detail, or to set up these disciplinary procedures.”

He said Wednesday that lawmakers should instead just pass a resolution to say, “We don’t like the universities, and we wish there were fewer liberals.”