Arizona House passes campus intellectual diversity bill

I wrote here about Stanley Kurtz’s tireless efforts to work with state legislatures to pass laws that protect campus free speech and promote intellectual diversity. I discussed, in particular, what Stanley calls the third wave of campus reform legislation.

The third wave focuses on intellectual diversity. Stanley explained:

The basic idea is to have public universities create offices of Public Policy Events, which would be charged with organizing debates, panel discussions, and individual lectures designed to explore widely debated public-policy issues from divergent and competing perspectives.

The debates would be open to the public, and videos of each event would be posted on the Web. The Office of Public Policy Events would publish a record of all public policy-related events on campus.

This comprehensive list would give taxpayers, parents, and students a good sense of the extent of intellectual diversity available in campus public events. Universities that resisted the mandate for intellectual diversity in debates, discussions, and lectures sponsored by the Public Policy Event office would risk the ire of legislatures and the public.

I’m happy to report that last week, the Arizona House became the first legislative body in the nation to pass a campus intellectual diversity bill based on the model legislation Stanley drafted. Rep. Anthony Kern guided the legislation — House bill 2238 — through the House.

Rep. Kern tweaked Stanley’s model to reinforce the fact that there is no requirement in the bill to balance talks before student groups or academic departments. Student groups and academic departments can go on as before, inviting any speakers they like, with no requirement for balance. It is only the University Office of Public Policy Events that must stage balanced debates, with topics selected by the university itself.

The next stop for this legislation is the Arizona Senate. Republicans make up the majority of that body, so there is a clear path to passage of the bill. (It passed the House on a straight party line vote.) Arizona’s governor is also a Republican.

Stanley acknowledges that intellectual diversity legislation is “no panacea for the ideological monolith that is the modern university.” However, it does have the potential to work a significant change. As Stanley points out:

Even a single voice speaking knowledgeably and persuasively against a prevailing orthodoxy is powerful thing. That is why ideological enforcers work so hard to shout down dissenters.

Thanks to the efforts of Stanley and of Rep. Kern, we may soon get a chance to see this dynamic in action. And if it works in Arizona, we might see a wave of imitators across the country.

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