OKLAHOMA, USA — Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt recently signed into law a bill dedicated to protecting college students' First Amendment rights on campuses.
House Bill 3543 (HB3543), presented by Rep. Chad Caldwell, creates a Free Speech Committee within the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, advises academic standards of higher education and determines functions and courses of study at state colleges and universities and grants degrees.
The Free Speech Committee will be responsible for training college deans and other administrators in First Amendment policies as well as reviewing and handling complaints.
"In our current culture, people on either side of an issue say they are afraid to speak freely for fear of recrimination from people with opposite views," Caldwell said. "This is especially troubling on college campuses, which should be the exact places where young people should be free to express, challenge and debate a variety of ideas and opinions as a way of formulating their own beliefs."
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, of 37,000 students surveyed nationwide, less than a third agreed that their college administration makes free speech policies clear to the student body. 90% of students surveyed describe themselves as "middle of the road" self-censor to avoid repercussions. Only 12% of students felt comfortable publicly disagreeing with a professor about a controversial topic, and viewpoint diversity among faculty and staff continues to decline. Oklahoma State University also ranked 84 and the University of Oklahoma ranked 110 out of 150 colleges and universities for free speech policies.
Under HB3543, the Regents would select the members of the committee, which would then be responsible for creating or approving First Amendment training for college deans, department heads or individuals responsible for dealing with free speech complaints at universities. The Boards of Regents would also approve the training content but must be done every two years or upon hire or promotion of the affected administrators. The committee also will be charged with reviewing free speech policies, recommending improvements, reviewing any complaints filed with the committee and recommending how the university might address them.
Policies will be posted on each institution's website and submitted to the governor, the Legislature, and the higher education chancellor by Dec. 31 every year.
Caldwell stressed the committee is to be advisory in nature and not punitive.
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