Opinion | Iowa Republicans are hypocritical when it comes to free speech at the UI


Tate Hildyard

The official podium of the of the Joni Ernst Republican watch party is seen at the Des Moins Marriott Downtown on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020 . Republicans from across the state have gathered to watch the results of the 2020 General Election.

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Editor

It seems like Iowa Republicans’ default explanation for legislation micromanaging higher education is to protect free speech.

But there hasn’t been a First Amendment issue on the University of Iowa campus until they decided to create one. The recent bills introduced in the Iowa Legislature make it clear it isn’t about free speech. Their hidden agenda is to protect speech they agree with while suppressing the speech that they don’t when it comes to higher education institutions.

The latest instance is using legislation to control diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in higher education.

Recently, the Iowa Senate Education Committee advanced a bill that would regulate DEI training at public universities.

Higher education institutions would need to implement policies that prohibit the college from restricting free speech and penalties on protected speech. Faculty members would also be subjected to a disciplinary hearing if they were knowingly restricting protected speech.

Worst of all, the bill has similar language to the executive order former President Trump issued to “combat race and sex stereotyping.”

The fact that the nature of this bill is based on an executive order designed to limit conversation about systemic racism exposes the hypocrisy Iowan Republicans express when they cry out for freedom of speech.

But the hypocrisy isn’t anything new, and its roots stem all the way back to 2020.

We saw the repercussions when the executive order was introduced last October. When the UI paused the training for a two-week period, members of the community including shared governance expressed concerns or spoke out against it.

When the email thread from the College of Dentistry sparked debate about how DEI initiatives didn’t belong at the UI, multiple students felt “isolated and anxious.”

At the time, it’s clear the Republican Party cared more about “patriotism” instead of equality and inclusivity. But Iowa Republicans also saw the opportunity to create a weapon that could be used for future legislation, so they did exactly that.

When a conservative student was called in for a disciplinary hearing for unprofessional behavior, they twisted the incident to play the victim card.

Now, this situation has now become the catalyst and backbone for multiple bills targeting higher education and free speech.

But if they’re so concerned about free speech, then why did they introduce House Fill 122 that would reduce funding for any Iowa school district that incorporates the 1619 project into their curriculum? Why would they be trying to eliminate tenure when its purpose is for a “free exchange of ideas?”

It’s because the only voices they care about are the voices they agree with. They are trying to protect and promote the speech they like while silencing the voices they don’t like.

While Iowa Republicans may think they have us fooled by thinking they’re standing for First Amendment rights, we can see what they really want to do is control speech.  No matter how many times the word “patriotism” is used or they claim they want to foster a “respectful workplace,” their only concern is creating an environment based on their values.

The “free exchange of ideas” can’t happen when there’s only certain speech that’s allowed to be discussed. Right now, the UI is in danger of possibly being stripped of the ability to create an environment that allows this to happen.

The hypocrisy with Iowa Republicans is evident, and they can’t claim to be introducing legislation that’s protects free speech when they’re also the ones limiting it.  It’s time for them to get off the backs of higher education and micromanage them on the basis of the First Amendment.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.