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Indiana law requires professors to promote “intellectual diversity” or face penalties

A new law in Indiana requires professors at public universities to promote a culture of “intellectual diversity” or face disciplinary action, including firing even those with tenure. This is the latest attempt by Republicans to gain more control over classroom instruction.

The law ties the professional status of faculty members, regardless of whether they are tenured, to whether they promote “free inquiry” and “free expression” in the eyes of a university’s board of trustees. State Senator Spencer Deery, who sponsored the bill, made one point opinion that this would mean incorporating more conservative viewpoints on campus.

The backlash to the law, which Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, signed March 13, was significant. Hundreds wrote letters or testified at hearings and teachers Senate at several institutions had called on lawmakers to reject the bill, condemn it as a government overreach and a blow to academic freedom of expression.

“The whole point of tenure is to protect academic freedom,” said Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, who called the law “thought surveillance.”

Colleges across the country have been rocked by debates over academic freedom in recent years. Several states including Florida, Texas And Nebraskahave suggested Term limits laws, some of which have been passed. More broadly, Republican-led states have targeted diversity programs at universities; These bills restricting or eliminating these programs have had greater success in being passed into law because such measures have become law at least half a dozen states.

Under Indiana law, which takes effect in July, university trustees are barred from granting tenure or promotion to faculty members who are “unlikely” to promote “intellectual diversity” or expose students to works of diverse political views. Trustees can also deny employment or promotion to those who are found to be “likely” to bring unrelated political views to the courses they teach.

Faculty members who already have tenure would be reviewed regularly to determine whether they meet all of these criteria. If the board concludes that this is not the case, they could be demoted or fired. The law also requires colleges to establish a process for students or other employees to file complaints about faculty members who are perceived to be failing to meet these requirements.

By law, boards are not allowed to punish lecturers for criticizing the institution or engaging in politics outside of their teaching duties. The restrictions do not apply to private university members.

“I trust that our public universities will diligently implement this law to promote the successful growth and intellectual vibrancy of scholarship while protecting the rights of all people,” Gov. Holcomb said in a statement.

In describing the rationale for the legislation, Mr. Deery, a Republican, pointed to polls that showed a significant decline in the number of Republicans who have confidence in higher education, a decline that many legal scholars attribute to teachers’ political views becoming more prevalent bring lessons. He also raised controversies over anti-Semitism on campus that have erupted in recent months, leading to the resignation of university presidents and calls for greater oversight by university trustees.

“Recent events and blatant anti-Semitism have shone a spotlight on the hyperpoliticization and monolithic thinking of American higher education institutions, and many are warning that universities have lost their way,” Deery said after the bill passed the Senate. The legislation, he said, “spurs the leaders of these institutions to correct course.”

Alice Pawley, a professor of engineering education at Purdue University, said that many faculty members in Indiana are upset about the new restrictions and that “no one trusts that these will actually be applied fairly.” Many felt discouraged by their job security because they believed they were at the mercy of fiduciaries who were not experts in their field and would make decisions based on highly subjective criteria, Dr. Pawley.

“This policy is a smart way to appear reasonable but at the same time create a climate where people are always looking over their shoulder to see who is going to judge them,” she said.

Even some concerned about the lack of conservative voices on campus were skeptical. Keith E. Whittington, a politics professor at Princeton University, expressed concern about the law’s vagueness, including uncertainty about what will be needed to meet its requirements.

What sets Indiana’s law apart from other similar measures, according to Dr. Whittington said it “does not seek to punish people for bringing controversial ideas into their teaching.” Rather, “it tries to punish people for not bringing enough ideas into their teaching.” And that is still an interference with people’s own professional judgment about what they should teach.”

In practice, according to Dr. Whittington, there will be many professors “who are afraid and want to figure out not just, ‘How do I design a course that I think is intellectually coherent, satisfying and pedagogically useful?'” but also, “How do I protect myself?” from potentially being fired?’”

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