First Amendment on the facade of the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

The Iowa Board of Regents approved the recommendations presented by the Free Speech Committee.

The Iowa Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve the 10 recommendations set forth by the Free Speech Committee. The board’s commitment to free speech was made clear in response to controversies last year. The board members and the presidents of Iowa’s three public universities discussed the topic along with tenure and graduation rates in their meeting Wednesday.

The Free Speech Committee was established Nov. 28, 2020, by Board President Michael Richards in an effort to improve the facilitation of free speech on university campuses. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Required free speech training for all students, staff and faculty on an annual basis.

  • University funds will not be used for partisan activities. 

  • Universities will only take an institutional position on policy matters 

  • The syllabus free speech statement will be reviewed at the beginning of each course. 

In his report, Richards said free speech on campus is a constitutional right and is important for education. Violations of free speech will not be tolerated by the board. 

“Every faculty, staff and student must feel confident that their constitutional rights are protected on our campuses and that they will not face retribution for exercising their rights,” Richards said.  

Richards went on to reference free speech issues that occurred over the past year. Last August, Iowa State University was heavily criticized after a professor’s syllabus barred students from writing about viewpoints that were against gay marriage, abortion, Black Lives Matter, etc.  

In January 2020, Iowa State was sued by the national nonprofit Speech First over three of Iowa State’s policies: banning sidewalk chalk messaging, banning the use of university email to ask for political support and the Campus Climate Reporting System. Speech First claimed all three of these were violations of First Amendment rights. 

In her presentation to the board, Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen addressed the syllabus controversy by calling the syllabus “inappropriate” and emphasizing Iowa State’s support for free speech on campus. She said as a result, the university developed a required free speech syllabus for all courses at Iowa State. 

One of the recommendations was for all three universities to implement a required syllabus consistent with Iowa State’s. President of the University of Iowa, Bruce Harreld and Mark Nook, president of the University of Northern Iowa, also presented their universities’ policies on free speech. 

Additionally, Richards stated the Board of Regents’ support for tenure at the universities. Iowa Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would ban tenure at all three universities. Richards said tenure allows faculty to explore their field without political influence or administrative interference. 

Before concluding the meeting, Associate Chief Academic Officer Jason Pontius presented the graduation and retention report. As a whole, the three universities had a retention rate for second-year students of 88 percent, which is the highest on record and well above the national average. Between the three schools, Iowa State had the highest retention rate at 89 percent and the highest graduation rate within six years at 75 percent. 

Feb. 24, 2021 Agenda: https://www.iowaregents.edu/meetings/past-meeting-agendas/february-24-2021. 

The next meeting of the Iowa Board of Regents will be held April 14/15.

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