The Board of Regents State of Iowa addressed free expression on campus and heard critiques from Iowa State faculty about the Regents’ COVID-19 mitigation.
The Regents met at the Iowa State Alumni Center on Wednesday as part of the dual session. Attorney and professor Todd Pettys gave a presentation to the Board on First Amendment rights from an institutional point of view.
The Board of Regents recently instituted a Freedom of Expression Policy statement which outlines the Board’s commitment to free speech on campus. The guiding principles state it is not the role of the Regent universities to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment. This includes opinions and ideas some find unwelcoming, disagreeable or offensive.
Instead, it is the universities job to encourage diversity of thought and a peaceful exercise of freedom of expression. Pettys said because there is a transition of First Amendment freedoms from public K-12 schools to universities, he encourages the university to educate students before a free speech issue arises.
Viewpoint discrimination is when a government official declares certain views can’t be discussed or differing treatment based on someone’s viewpoint. If viewpoint discrimination occurs, Pettys said it is very difficult to survive a First Amendment attack. The Board’s policy prohibits viewpoint discrimination in a public university setting.
Within the disciplines of teaching, Pettys said there is viewpoint distinction. For example, if a student were to present an opinion irrelevant to the course work or assignment resulting in a poor grade, the student has no grounds to argue viewpoint discrimination against the teacher.
The Free Speech Committee also provided a brief on the free speech training and survey they are developing for the universities. Both initiatives are expected to be completed by the end of the fall semester, with the potential to go out to the universities by the spring semester.
During the public comments session of Wednesday’s meeting, two professors from Iowa State University gave statements to the Regents regarding COVID-19 policies. Andrea Wheeler, a professor of architecture and environmental design, told the Board professors are losing authority in their classrooms because of their inability to require masks.
“Instructors at ISU have weathered 18 months of a pandemic and students have borne the brunt and they need our help, but I ask them to wear a mask in the classroom and they stare at me,” said Wheeler. “I think they are preparing less, reading less, but I need to help to build them and they need to be prepared enough, curious and engaged to really begin to achieve the serious learning objectives of my class. They need my pedagogical skills and they need my authority.”
Jon Perkins, an accounting professor at Iowa State, also expressed concerns with the Board’s COVID-19 decisions. He said faculty members feel that the Board has prioritized individual freedoms over the safety of the faculty. He also feels that faculty should have been consulted on the decisions regarding mask mandates.
“Some faculty I've spoken with vindicated their perception is that the Board has failed to meaningfully reduce the risk to faculty from COVID-19,” said Perkins. “This not only makes them afraid, it makes them frustrated that they weren’t included in the decision-making process in the first place.”
The Regents thanked the speakers, and the public comments session ended ahead of schedule at 4 p.m.
Iowa State reported ISU alumni C.G. Turk and Joyce Therkildsen gifted $42 million to the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering.
The Board of Regents Property and Facilities Committee recommended approval for the name.
The Veterinary Diagnostic Lab caseload has doubled in the last five years, creating a shortage of functional space impacting the Vet. Lab’s ability to serve Iowa’s animal and agriculture industry.
The Veterinary Diagnostic Lab construction is underway and expected to be completed by August 2023. In 2018, the General Assembly granted $63.5 million towards the total costs of $75 million towards 72,500 gross square feet (GSF) new veterinary diagnostic.
There is also a proposed addition to the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. The University requested $60.8 million in state funds towards the project’s total cost of $64.3 million to cover an additional 69,600 gross square feet (GSF). The addition is to bring all the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab programs under one roof.
These programs constitute critical laboratory functions, including lab testing, research space and support functions, making up 85 percent of all cases processed by the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.
Iowa State also requested funding from the Board of Regents for the renovation of LeBaron Hall, where part of the College of Human Science is located. The University proposed demolishing the 49,000 gross square feet, which have not been significantly renovated since 1958.
Iowa State’s College of Human Sciences project would be completed in two parts. The demolition process will be funded through private gifts of $21.5 million and $14 million in university funds. The Board approved $18.9 million in state funds for the renovation and the 20,000 gross square feet addition. The total project amounts to approximately $54.4 million.
The Regents will have a meeting to review the presented committee, presentations and vote on the projects. The Board of Regents convenes in an open session from 9:15 a.m. to 12:10 p.m Thursday.