Expert says interpreting Cox’s directive to Utah’s university presidents will be difficult

Dec 6, 2023, 1:00 PM

FILE - The Utah State Board of Education is pictured in Salt Lake City. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret New...

FILE - The Utah State Board of Education is pictured in Salt Lake City. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Governor Spencer Cox issued a directive that Utah’s university presidents remain neutral on political issues. 

Cox announced the directive during a news conference with the Utah State Board of Education. The governor’s statement said he “does not care” what their opinions are on prominent political issues. 

“We don’t need our institutions to take positions on these things,” Cox added. 

Each Utah college and university has until June 1, 2024, to “draft individual resolutions,” according to Leah Murray, the director of the Walker Institute of Politics at Weber State University. 

“Often the definition of protected speech [is] political speech,” said Murray. 

She added that the writers of each university’s resolution will have to determine what political speech is or is not protected under the First Amendment. 

“Parsing out what it means is gonna be hard,” said Murray. 

Murray added that part of her job is teaching students how to have dialogues with those who hold different views. 

Sometimes, according to Murray, she cultivates those conversations through dialogue with her students. Other times, the school invites speakers to present to the students. 

“The way that I initially had heard this was that administrative units on campus could not take a position, right? So it’s the idea of being institutionally neutral,” said Murray. 

She said that Cox’s directive raised questions about how universities can engage their students in political discourse. 

Related: The role university leaders play in promoting free speech

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Expert says interpreting Cox’s directive to Utah’s university presidents will be difficult