Indiana lawmakers are considering an amendment to Senate Bill 414, which deals with various education changes, that would require a report from public college campuses on student perspectives of free speech. It is unclear if this will be a one-time report or a recurring practice.
The bill originally did not include a requirement for reports on students’ perceptions of free speech on campuses. The amendment was added to the bill after being passed through the House Education Committee, and it passed the Indiana House of Representatives Tuesday.
The amendment was authored by Rep. Jack Jordan, R-Bremen. It will head back to the author in the Senate so all changes and other amendments to the original bill can be reviewed.
The amendment asks the state’s Commission for Higher Education to create a survey that would be distributed to college students no later than May 1, 2022. The survey would seek to create reports from public institutions of higher education that show how students feel about expressing their opinions on campus.
This data will be used to determine whether universities are fostering environments that allow for differing opinions and ideologies.
According to the IndyStar, Jordan originally wanted to determine whether each class, professor, speaker and student group leaned conservative or liberal. However, such language in the bill worried some lawmakers, according to the IndyStar.
Joseph Tomain, an IU Maurer School of Law lecturer and expert in free speech, said he understands why the original language would have been troubling to lawmakers and free speech advocates regardless of their viewpoints.
“This is so much more than politics,” Tomain said. “What would be most valuable is that we make sure that this conversation continues to be much broader than red and blue.”
Whether it’s a bill, university policy or something more informal, he said finding out whether students feel safe expressing certain opinions on campus can be a teachable moment for universities to learn about student perceptions.
IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said IU supports free speech on campus and he feels comfortable with the university’s policies concerning First Amendment protections.
“We support a free and civil exchange of ideas,” Carney said. “Academic freedom is of paramount importance at the university.”
IU has a website outlining IU’s policies regarding First Amendment protections and free speech, Carney said.
“The idea of the site is really to very explicitly answer what is protected, what we support and how we adhere to the Constitution,” Carney said.
Carney said in an email to the Indiana Daily Student that the university’s government relations staff is in ongoing discussions and working with lawmakers about the bill.
Brett Abbott, an IU sophomore and president of College Republicans at IU, said he has never felt his opinions were suppressed in his classes as a business major. However, he said he knows friends who have felt like they could not speak up about certain topics due to fear of social repercussions.
Abbott said he liked that the amendment would gather student opinions and create data for universities to consider.
“I think it’s very important that all students, regardless of their political affiliation, feel comfortable expressing their views and exercising their First Amendment rights,” Abbott said.
Sam Waterman, IU sophomore and president of College Democrats at IU, said she has also never felt censored in class. However, depending on the situation, she said students on campus may feel as though they have less of a voice in certain classes depending on the department, field or situation they are in.
“I am in a very heavy liberal arts field, so it tends to attract more left-leaning students.” Waterman said. “But, for example, my friends in Kelley that are liberal, they feel like their perspectives are ridiculed by their professors.”