COLLEGES + UNIVERSITIES

Utah Board of Higher Education’s free speech resolution won’t eliminate political opinions on campus, expert says

Dec 5, 2023, 4:34 PM | Updated: 5:14 pm

students walk on the U of U campus, political positions from a public college or university is no l...

Students walk on campus at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret New)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret New)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Board of Higher Education passed a free speech resolution on Friday that requires public colleges to maintain neutrality on political and social issues. 

The resolution was supported by Gov. Spencer Cox, who said it would help foster fair and equal debate of the day’s hot-button issues.

 

With the passage of the resolution, public universities cannot have a public position on politics, social issues, or unsettled matters of controversy, such as the Israel-Hamas war or abortion.

Resolution protects student free speech on Utah college campuses

The resolution read, in part,

A fundamental mission of higher education is to promote the exchange of knowledge and ideas through teaching, research, critical evaluation, civil discourse, and debate. Neutrality as an entity allows the institution to protect this mission by supporting those who engage in open, rigorous debate without disaffecting segments of its faculty, staff, and students whose sincerely held beliefs conflict with others.”

KSL Legal Analyst Greg Skordas said this doesn’t mean there can’t be opinions on campus.

“It’s okay for a professor to, it’s okay for students to. And it’s okay for you to advocate for that, so long as it’s your opinion and you’re not speaking on behalf of the university,” Skordas said.

Skordas said the resolution helps protect both sides of the debate.

“Because we’re having so many issues on campus with, you know, gender identity and reproductive rights and that type of thing,” Skordan said.

“Don’t take a position one way or the other, just open the doors and open the thought so that people can have these discussions without protests, without violence, without too much disruption.”

By June 1, 2024, public colleges in the state must create policies to protect and foster free speech on campuses while maintaining the institution’s commitment to neutrality.

Mark Jackson contributed to this report.

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Utah Board of Higher Education’s free speech resolution won’t eliminate political opinions on campus, expert says