USD pres in diversity forum recording: 'I am terrified that this is live-streamed'
- The University of South Dakota president said in a free speech forum that a Democratic state senator’s criticism of a GOP-led letter supporting free speech was “brilliant.”
- Republican lawmakers were not happy with her comment, and one said that “USD has a culture that opposes free speech."
- The USD president later said that she was "terrified" the event, of which Campus Reform has obtained video, was being live-streamed.
The president of the University of South Dakota called a Democrat lawmaker’s criticism of a Republican-led intellectual diversity and free speech letter “brilliant," in a video recording during which she also said, "I am terrified that this is live-streamed."
Campus Reform obtained the link to the recording, which can be accessed here.
USD president Sheila Gestring said in a “free speech and intellectual diversity forum” that Democrat state Sen. Susan Wismer’s criticism of a letter by GOP lawmakers suggesting free speech and intellectual diversity policy changes was “brilliant.”
“There was a hearing held and hopefully you had the opportunity to listen to that hearing streamed. Because Senator Wismer was brilliant,” Gestring said during the forum. Gestring was referring to comments made during a June Board of Regents forum on the recently passed free-speech legislation, HB 1087. Wismer made the following comments about the letter signed by the GOP lawmakers.
“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 institution. It cannot stand in the record without being challenged.”
The letter that Wismer is referencing contains the following suggestions, among others, for improving free speech and intellectual diversity on South Dakota college campuses:
“The BOR [Board of Regents] and each university must create hiring practices to ensure the composition of the faculty and administration reflects a broad range of ideological viewpoints.”
“In addition, as stated by Dr. [Paul] Beran, the BOR and universities must ‘explore [and implement] seminars, lecture series, courses, programs or fellows options that further advance this effort on our campuses’ and add minors in American Constitutional Heritage, Conservative Political Thought, The Great Books, and Western Civilization, and The Heritage of Greece and Rome.”
“A mechanism for ongoing student complaints regarding lack of intellectual diversity, as well as an end-of- course evaluation such as the Model Student Evaluation of Faculty provided by the American College of Trustees and Alumni is crucial to establishing and maintaining an intellectually diverse environment.”
“While beneficial programs for Native American students, and students of other diverse cultures should be preserved, the build-up of Diversity Offices which are used to promote social justice causes associated with the political left such as safe zone training, the biannual drag show, and social justice training, to name just a few, should be dismantled.”
“The BOR should enact policies to place intellectual diversity on the same footing as other aspects of diversity. In addition, policies such as Inclusive Excellence must be significantly revised to come into compliance with the new statute.”
At one point in the forum, Gestring said to the audience “I am terrified that this is live-streamed.”
Multiple Republican lawmakers in South Dakota expressed to Campus Reform that they were not pleased with Gestring’s comments.
“President Gestring praising South Dakota’s most liberal State Senator as ‘brilliant’ tells you everything you need to know about our universities in this state,” Republican state Rep. Sue Peterson told Campus Reform.
Republican state Sen. Jim Stalzer told Campus Reform explicitly that USD was the reason HB 1087 was passed.
“The policies of USD were the reason the Campus Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity bill was passed. It had the support of the BOR and the Governor,” Stalzer said. “USD has 26 people at a cost of $3 million a year working on the diversity. The other State universities have a total of 6 between them.”
Stalzer then told Campus Reform that Gestring’s comments were not smart.
“I have grown to expect comments like these from Sen. Wismer, but don't think it was very ‘brilliant’ for USD President, Sheila Gestring, to alienate the people who vote on her budget,” he said.
“It is becoming obvious that USD has a culture that opposes free speech and intellectual diversity. [T]hat needs to change and the President appears to support that culture,” Stalzer concluded.
Campus Reform reached out to the University of South Dakota multiple times but did not receive a response in time for publication.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10