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DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers are one governor signature away from codifying explicit First Amendment rights in public schools, from elementaries to regent universities.
House File 744, which the full Senate passed unanimously, 48-0, Wednesday, excludes some controversial aspects from earlier versions — including language barring certain types of diversity training, like those involving race “stereotyping” and “scapegoating.”
The measure bakes into Iowa law many changes the Iowa Board of Regents already has made or vowed to make in the wake of free speech controversies this academic year at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa.
Specific to Iowa’s public universities and community colleges, the new law requires campuses adopt policies with the following statements:
- The main function of a higher ed institution is “discovery, improvement, transmission and dissemination of knowledge” through teaching, research and discussion — done while allowing the fullest degree of free thought and expression.
- The proper role of the institutions is to encourage diversity of thought, ideas and opinions while respecting the peaceful, safe and respectful exercise of First Amendment rights.
- Students and faculty can discuss any problem, assemble or engage in spontaneous expressive activity on campus within First Amendment bounds and with reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.
- Outdoor spaces on campus are public and open to any invited speaker subject to reasonable time, place and manner details.
The new law also requires regents develop materials ensuring administrators — including presidents, vice presidents and deans — understand free speech policies and practices.
Under the measure, Iowa’s universities and colleges can’t retaliate against a member of its community who files a free-speech complaint. And if a faculty member is found to have “knowingly and intentionally” restricted protected speech, that person should be subject to discipline, which “may include termination.”
- Mandating instructors use a First Amendment statement in his or her syllabus.
- Barring university resources from going toward partisan activities.
- Allowing universities to take institutional positions only in conjunction with the board.
- Prohibiting universities from denying educational benefits based on viewpoint.
- Establishing the Free Speech Committee as a permanent regent body.
- Spelling out in university policies the penalties for free speech violations.
- Requiring updated training.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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