South Dakota legislator suggests Board of Regents is ‘slow walking’ free speech reform

The lawmaker said that universities should be promoting free speech and civilized debate.

A South Dakota lawmaker wrote a letter to the executive director of the state’s Board of Regents, accusing him of “slow walking” free speech reforms.

A Republican lawmaker in the South Dakota House of Representatives wrote a letter to the state’s Board of Regents, suggesting its members might be taking the “slow walk” on free speech and intellectual diversity reform on college campuses.

In an Oct. 11 letter obtained by Campus Reform, Rep. Sue Peterson wrote the letter to Dr. Paul Beran, executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents, and accused him of taking the slower path to implementing HB 1087, which is meant to improve free speech and intellectual diversity on college campuses.

As a result, Peterson asked that Beran attend an Oct. 30 meeting of the Government Operations and Audit Committee, which is the committee she chairs.

“We have been informed by various parties that the BOR is not taking the implementation of HB 1087 seriously and that the BOR is instructing campuses to ignore the requirements of HB1087 and/or to ‘slow walk’ any reforms,” Peterson said in the letter. “Please explain specifically what the BOR has been telling state universities about complying with HB1087?”

[RELATED: USD pres in diversity forum recording: 'I am terrified that this is live-streamed']

Peterson then asked Beran what the BOR is doing to promote intellectual diversity on college campuses in South Dakota, specifically suggesting that various programs of study be implemented at some South Dakota college campuses, such as “American Constitutional History,” “The Great Books,” “Conservative Political Thought,” and more.

The letter also asks whether the BOR took down the June 26 meeting video, in which Democrat state Sen. Susan Wismer called some of the State House and Senate leadership’s proposals on campus free speech “disrespectful, repugnant, embarrassing, presumptuous, [and] shameful,” as reported by Campus Reform.

In September, University of South Dakota President Shelia Gestring called Sen. Wismer’s comment “brilliant.”

In the letter, Peterson also asks Dr. Beran if he is considering redirecting diversity office funds towards “efforts to instead promote intellectual diversity.”

The BOR president, Kevin Schieffer, wrote in July that he would investigate campus diversity offices to identify any ideological agenda that they might be pushing.

[RELATED: SD Regents pres.: I will investigate campus diversity offices for left-leaning bias]

Rep. Sue Peterson told Campus Reform that she believes that campus diversity offices can be a positive force, with a strong caveat. 

“I do think they can serve a good purpose but they would have to be drastically different from what they are today,” Peterson said. “What we have today is social justice offices under the guise of diversity. The role of our universities should be to foster the free exchange of ideas, ideologies and opinions, and the only position that the universities should advocate for in that arena is that of promoting civilized debate in a free society.”

Peterson also said that she hopes that South Dakota universities are taking the issue of free speech and intellectual diversity seriously, and following the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law.”

“If our universities want to be involved in sponsoring or promoting events or speakers with an ideological leaning, they should do so with a holistic view and ensure that the university is presenting a broad range of opinions and ideas on such issues when the totality of the events and speakers they are promoting is evaluated,” Peterson told Campus Reform

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: SD Board of Regents passes substantial free speech protections]

Campus Reform reached out to the Board of Regents but did not receive a response in time for press.

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