School of Intellectual Freedom Act

INTRODUCTION

The survival of American liberty depends upon its public universities continuing to teach their students to cherish the Western and the American heritage, to preserve the institutions that preserve our liberty, and to practice liberty in their daily lives. Yet the bulk of higher education faculty either have abandoned their commitments to intellectual freedom, the Western heritage, and the American heritage, or lack the courage to stand up to the activist establishment determined to discard all three. Universities need to rededicate themselves to these principles, but the current faculty and administrative structures make it unlikely that any state law will change the ways courses actually are taught. A law requiring the teaching of American history likely will result in a course devoted to describing American history as a catalogue of sin. Policymakers must change the administrative structure of higher education to change the substance of what professors teach in college classrooms.

Our model bill, based on the Arizona legislation which created the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL) at Arizona State University, creates an autonomous School of Intellectual Freedom (SIF) at the flagship institution of the state public university system. The SIF, which should be staffed with courageous dissenters from the activist establishment, will have the administrative autonomy that allows it to teach proper courses on the nature of intellectual freedom, the Western heritage, and the American heritage. The SIF will also be tasked to report annually to state policymakers. This will allow SIF personnel to report if the activist establishment has attempted to abrogate their autonomy or subvert their mission.

The state of Arizona founded SCETL with an appropriation of $3 million in 2016 and continued that donation annually for several years. SIF will have the power to seek private and external donations, and ideally will be able to wean itself from taxpayer support in time. Policymakers, however, should anticipate spending at least that much money to make a SIF successful.

Policymakers might consider founding a SIF at each campus of the public university system—perhaps with some cost savings, if the SIF at the flagship campus provides administrative services for its peers at other campuses.

The School of Intellectual Freedom Act is also intended to make several other model bills function more effectively. The Campus Intellectual Diversity Act creates an Office of Public Policy Events; that would operate most efficiently if it were housed in an autonomous SIF. Likewise the Ombudsman Act creates an Ombudsman, who would work with particular diligence if he also were housed in an autonomous SIF. The Core Curriculum Act, the American History Act, and the Heritage Certificates Act all direct students to take in the Western and the American heritages, but the intent of these Acts can be subverted if the activist establishment is allowed to govern their operation. An autonomous SIF can guarantee that these three acts to reform university curriculum work as intended.

Tennessee Model

In 2022, Tennessee passed Tenn. Code § 49-9-1101 [Establishment of an institute of American civics]. We wish that this statute had not authorized “civic engagement,” we believe the School of Intellectual Freedom Act provides a stronger statement of the basic principles of intellectual freedom, and we believe it likewise provides stronger prohibitions of action civics and discriminatory concepts. Yet Tennessee’s statute also provides a model of a bill that has successfully passed into law, with bipartisan support, a measure of support from University of Tennessee administrators, and detailed mechanics for appointing a Director and a Board of Fellows. Policymakers should consider fusing elements of Tenn. Code § 49-9-1101 with the School of Intellectual Freedom Act.

MODEL LEGISLATIVE TEXT

Section A [“School of Intellectual Freedom”]

Subsection 1   

The {Board of Regents} of the {State} public university system shall require the {Flagship Institution of Higher Education} to establish a School of Intellectual Freedom, dedicated to intellectual freedom, the Western Heritage, and the American Heritage, which shall be funded by appropriations dedicated to its support by the {State} Legislature. The School shall operate as a single stand-alone academic entity within the {Flagship Institution of Higher Education}. The School shall be able to receive and administer private and external donations and gifts. The appropriated monies and all private and external donations to the School shall be used only for the direct operation of the School and may not be used for indirect costs of the university.

Subsection 2

The School shall promote the study of intellectual freedom, the Western Heritage, and the American Heritage by means of faculty hires, postdoctoral fellowships for younger scholars, targeted grants to faculty at {State}’s public universities, inviting guest speakers, and cooperation with external organizations dedicated to intellectual freedom, the Western Heritage, and the American Heritage. 

Subsection 3   

The School’s activities shall be guided by this Statement of Values:

  1. The School dedicates itself to the study of intellectual freedom, the Western Heritage, and the American Heritage.
  2. We affirm that the School will educate students by means of free, open, and rigorous intellectual inquiry to seek the truth.
  3. We affirm our duty to equip students with the intellectual skills they need to reach their own, informed conclusions on matters of social and political importance.
  4. We affirm our duty to ensure that no aspects of School life, within or outside the classroom, require, favor, disfavor, or prohibit speech or action to support any political, social, or religious belief.
  5. We affirm our commitment to create a community dedicated to an ethic of civil and free inquiry, which respects the autonomy of each member, supports individual capacities for growth, and tolerates the differences in opinion that shall naturally obtain in a public university community.
  6. These values take priority over any other value we may also adopt.

Subsection 4

The School shall not offer:

  1. experiential learning courses; 
  2. courses that require students as a condition of passing any class to engage in activism; or
  3. courses that require students as a condition of passing any class to affirm or assent to discriminatory concepts.

Subsection 5 

The School shall submit a report to the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the chairs of the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Committee, and the chairs of the Joint Committee on Appropriations on or before October 1 of each year. The report shall include at least the following for the school:

  1. The total amount of funding received from all sources.
  2. A description of faculty positions and courses offered. 
  3. The total undergraduate and graduate student enrollment. 
  4. Significant community events, initiatives or publications. 

The President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the chairs of the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Committee, and the chairs of the Joint Committee on Appropriations Committee may request the Director of the School to appear before the Committees to report on the School’s annual achievements.

Subsection 6

As used in this Act:

  1. “Discriminatory concepts” means the concepts that: (a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (b) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (c) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race; (d) members of one race cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race; (e) an individual’s moral standing or worth is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; (f) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; (g) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; (h) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a members of a particular race to oppress members of another race; (i) that the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States; or (j) that, with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.
  2. “Activism” means activity outside the classroom aimed at achieving a political or a social goal.

Section B [“Severability”]If any provision of this chapter, or the application of any provision to any person or circumstance, is held to be invalid, the remainder of this chapter and the application of its provisions to any other person or circumstance shall not be affected thereby.

EXISTING STATE STATUTES

Tennessee: Tenn. Code § 49-9-1101 [Establishment of an institute of American civics]

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