The Board of Regents spent the day hearing from Republican legislators’ out-of-state conservative allies who jetted here to whine they don’t receive the same civil rights protections for their chosen opinions as actual oppressed minorities in the United States receive against active racism, sexism, and other forms of genuine, unjust discrimination.
Let us be clear from the top: Suppression of intellectual diversity on South Dakota campuses is a figment of the imagination of Republican Fox News watchers and their out-of-state conservative allies. It didn’t exist when legislators passed and the Governor signed House Bill 1087; it doesn’t exist now.
Regental President and conservative Republican Kevin Schieffer said so. Actual South Dakota students said so. As was the case last winter during Legislative debate over their out-of-state-influenced and fake intellectual-diversity bill, not one person speaking to the Board of Regents today provided any evidence of actual institutional suppression of political views:
But Board of Regents President Kevin Schieffer said he didn’t think South Dakota’s university system had a problem. Schieffer, who called himself a “conservative Republican” during the hearing, served as chief of staff to Republican Sen. Larry Pressler.
“I do think there is an issue out there,” Schieffer said. “But I do worry about blowing this out of proportion.”
“I just haven’t seen it in South Dakota,” he added.
…While some students testified that conservatives self-censor their beliefs because of fears of retaliation, other students testified that there was already intellectual diversity. Allyson Monson, the South Dakota State University Student Association president, said the student union contained signs from groups promoting meetings and events from across the political spectrum [Jonathan Ellis, “Regents Grapple with How to Implement Intellectual Diversity Law,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2019.06.26].
But the complete absence of one bogeyman doesn’t stop certain South Dakota Republicans from attacking another bogeyman: campus diversity offices. Even as they claim to be fighting for diversity, seven Republican legislators submitted a letter threatening to shut down our public universities’ diversity offices unless they stop promoting cultural diversity and instead promulgate the seven Republicans legislators’ preferred, narrow, assimilationist (and yes, whisper it with me, white-privileged) worldview:
As such, the legislature will be closely monitoring the reform of these offices and programs and scrutinizing their expenditures.
Reforms should provide requirements that 1.) add conservative and intellectually diverse leadership to Diversity Offices and programs, 2.) shift from politically driven activity to education about cultural diversity and the benefits to all citizens of the orderly assimilation of people of other nations seeking better life in America, 3.) our heritage of welcoming people of other cultures who come here legally and follow the law and 4.) the enrichment provided by diverse peoples coming together in our nation and becoming one (E Pluribus Unum.)
It is our hope that the Diversity Offices and related programming will make the proper shift. However, if the current trend continues and Diversity Offices are not reformed to include recommendations in this and the other letters mentioned below, the legislature may be forced to explore options such as Tennessee has adopted that remove funding for these offices all together [Rep. Sue Peterson, Rep. Steven Haugaard, Rep. Lee Qualm, Sen. Jim Stalzer, Sen. Brock Greenfield, Sen. Kris Langer, and Sen. Ryan Maher, letter to Board of Regents, 2019.06.12; published as Attachment 12 to Regental Agenda Item 2, 2019.06.26].
It should be clear: the South Dakota Republicans and their myriad out-of-state conservative allies pushing “intellectual diversity” aren’t really seeking diversity. They certainly aren’t seeking equal rights and protections for all students, faculty, and citizens. They are seeking state support for their failing worldview in an effort to punish liberals, silence facts they find objectionable, and make everyone think like them.
Not all Republicans are that dumb or deceitful or determined co-opt the mantle of “oppressed” from the minorities they oppress. Rep. Scyller Borglum (R-32/Rapid City) read her colleagues’ threat to close diversity offices and said that would be unwise:
While I understand the need and commitment to maintain an efficient bottom line, this decision would be short term savings with long-term consequences. The cultural and diversity offices on campus expose South Dakota students to a variety of people and opportunities outside of our great state. Not only that, but employers who can offer our students tremendous opportunities require that graduates have exposure to an understanding of different cultures. If we eliminate these offices across the campuses we will lose potential employers as we have seen with SD Mines losing Shell and Dow chemical. A broader concern would be the potential loss of accreditation for our universities as was seen with USD and SDSU. We want our students to enjoy a long-term investment in their degrees and diplomas. Let’s look for other ways to positively affect the bottom line [Rep. Scyller Borglum, e-mail to Board of Regents, 2019.06.18; Attachment 14 to Regental Agenda 2, 2019.06.26].
Senator VJ Smith (R-7/Brookings) seemed taken aback by his Republican colleagues’ demand that the Regents exclusively hire conservatives to fill new teaching positions in history and civics (no, really, Peterson and friends say that—read page 3, Improvement Item #4 in their June 12 letter) and add a minor in Conservative Political Thought (Improvement Item #2). He said in testimony today that he had voted for HB 1087 on the assurance that the Legislature had worked with the Regents on the bill and that he didn’t intend his vote to authorize poking into books, syllabi, and classrooms.
Senator Susan Wismer (D-1/Britton) read her Republican colleagues’ ideological intimidation tactics and let them have multiple barrels:
This is a precarious situation. I don’t envy you your positions in walking this tightrope of quantifying reportable actions to be taken by our campuses to ensure “intellectual diversity.”
I came here to say what thousands of students, the college administrators, the BOR office, and maybe even a few of you cannot say in public: Some can’t say it because they’re not here. Some can’t say it because their jobs or degrees depend on telling their superiors what they want to hear. The campuses can’t say it because their budgets depend on pleasing the legislators who are fueling this campaign and these institutions. You can’t even say it because if you anger the Governor too much she’ll find someone more to her liking to replace you on this board. So I came here to say it for every one of you who cannot. And to say it more bluntly. It’s your job to be diplomatic. It’s my job to be clear and to the point.
So here goes: I find Pages 96-102 of the Appendix—the list of demands by GOP House and Senate leadership to be disrespectful, repugnant, embarrassing, presumptuous, shameful, close-minded, and a violent interference upon our educational institutions. It cannot stand in the record without being challenged. The legislators that signed that had every right to give you their opinions. They have absolutely no right to act as if they could unilaterally expand the language of the law to the suggestions they have there. Nowhere in the law does it define “conservative thought” as intellectual diversity. I find their hubris in deigning to speak for the entire legislature discouraging and infuriating. They do NOT speak for the entire legislature. Many of us on both sides of the aisle would find their demands, substituting their judgment for that of the institutions, as appalling as I do.
That being said…Intellectual diversity goes both ways. Is it code for conservative or liberal? Be careful what you wish for. For instance, the economics departments of our schools are highly conservative and lack diversity. Based on data collected from every school, in the last month, not one offers economic courses in political economy or that extend beyond mainstream theory. Perhaps these guidelines would force us to hire more social economists who put economic value on factors that mainstream economists do not. Perhaps there would even be a union organizer among them!
The love/hate relationship that conservatives have with government mandates never ceases to amaze me. Mandates are vilified if they try to assure that employees are treated fairly. But they are enthusiastically embraced if they can be used to enforce social mores.
Now the legislature has put on your plate yet another government mandate: collection and reporting of data that will only be fodder for more arguments.
Victimhood has become very popular these days. It seems like everyone is selling victimhood to get my support for whatever they are selling. The very idea that conservative thought needs to become a protected class in the academic world I find twisted and ironic, especially in this state where conservatives control every lever of state government.
Today we all have the luxury of being able to roll our eyes at “political correctness.” Instead of doing that, I wish we could appreciate the advances we have made against discrimination. Please don’t let SD fall away from those protections in order to salve the hurt feelings of those who are learning, ever so slowly, that intolerance of any kind is not tolerable in America today.
Today I’m praying for brave souls all throughout this system to stand strong against these political winds. I’m praying that SD survives this assault on our academic freedom. Don’t stop protecting those who have historically been discriminated against and still are today. Don’t allow South Dakota to be used as a guinea pig or national model for dismantling academic freedom. Don’t legitimize hate, proselytizing, state religion, or state political party on our campuses any more than they already are. Please don’t back down from the truly honorable mission of providing an excellent academic environment and a truly free place for ALL students to attain their very best [emphasis mine; Sen. Susan Wismer, remarks to Board of Regents, as prepared and submitted to Dakota Free Press, 2019.06.26].
Pay close attention to Senator Wismer’s last paragraph (which, according to the ACLU’s Libby Skarin, was met with the first applause of the Regents’ hearing). The Republicans are lying to cover up their bald-faced Big-Brother intentions. But even if there an honest Republican with honest concerns that conservatives are an oppressed minority on our college campus, Senator Wismer’s final paragraph captures the philosophical flaw in the argument for “intellectual diversity.”
There is no wrong race, ethnicity, sex, or gender identity. There is thus no harm in protecting racial, ethnic, sexual, or gender-identity diversity: an institution that adopts “diversity” along those lines as a core value does not end up protecting a harmful race or sex. In fact, since some people (racists, bigots, Nazis, Steve Haugaard) wrongly view certain racial, ethnic, sexual, or gender-identity characteristics as a reason to harm certain people, we have a moral obligation to protect diversity along those lines.
There are some wrong intellectual positions—white supremacy, fascism, the Laffer Curve. There is thus potential harm in protecting “intellectual diversity”: if an institution adopts “intellectual diversity” as a core value, it faces the risk of obliging itself to support falsehood and to accept participants who reject and undermine its other core values, like democratic pluralism, inclusive dialogue, and honest intellectual inquiry. We have no moral obligation to give equal respect to ideas that are wrong.
Even if they meant it, Republicans could not win their argument for protection for their intellectual diversity. People who believe Donald Trump is God’s instrument of divine justice are not an oppressed class entitled to special hiring protections at our public universities or minors or seminars or dorm programming telling others to applaud and assimilate those conservative predilections. They’re just people with bad ideas, harmful ideas, who will have to deal with the fact that they will lose reasonable, fact-based arguments with smart people.
But the radical Republicans speaking today lost the diversity argument for themselves by showing they don’t really want diversity. In an already conservative state (at least as expressed in elections and the Legislature), those brittle Republicans are demanding that public universities shut down their diversity offices and only hire conservative professors. They want one People, one Party, one pure way of thinking—their way of thinking.
And in Sue Peterson’s and Steve Haugaard’s case (and that of their out-of-state conservative allies), “thinking” needs to go in the same mock quotes as “diversity.”