State Board of Regents free speech committee discusses syllabus statements, First Amendment training

The committee shared how each institution developed a syllabus statement and web page that addresses free speech, and shared information about First Amendment training.


Wyatt Dlouhy

Iowa Board of Regents President Michael Richards sits alongside President Pro Tem Patty Cownie during a meeting at the Iowa State Alumni Center in Ames, Iowa, on Thursday, June 6, 2019. The Regents voted in favor of a four percent tuition increase starting in the fall semester of 2019.

Natalie Dunlap, News Editor

The state Board of Regents free speech committee presented the University of Iowa’s new web page on free speech and expression, the three regent institutions’ provosts provided updates on the free speech syllabus statement, and members discussed options for developing training on the First Amendment for the fall semester on Wednesday afternoon. 

Regent Greta Rouse, appointed in April 2021, serves as the committee’s chairperson. 

“The most critical thing I want to emphasize is that free speech is a hallmark of our society, and in higher education it is absolutely critical that we not only protect that right, but we have it appropriately embedded in the education that students receive,” Rouse said in her opening remarks. 

Provosts from the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa shared how faculty at each institution worked to develop a syllabus statement that addresses free speech. 

ISU was the first regent university to develop and implement a free speech syllabus. Faculty began using the statement in the winter session of 2020-21, which states the institution supports and upholds the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech and the principle of academic freedom to create a diverse learning environment.

The ISU Faculty Senate executive board was involved in developing the statement, contributing to the smooth implementation, Provost Jonathan Wickert said. 

“The syllabus statement affirms very publicly, very clearly, very unambiguously that students have the right to free expression in the classroom,” Wickert said. 

Each university developed a webpage that outlines the institution’s policies on free speech, including a frequently asked questions page. ISU and UNI modeled their webpages after the UI’s page, said Board Counsel Aimee Claeys. Josh Lehman, the regent’s senior communications director, also worked with the three universities on their webpages. 

The UI’s frequently asked questions page includes a section on what type of chalking is allowed on campus, and states that overwriting or washing away chalk is not permitted unless it is done by the person or organization who originally did the chalking. 

Last month, some members of the campus community washed away chalk messagesincluding “Blue Lives Matter,” “protect all life,” and “MAGA” — left by the UI College Republicans.

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In February, the regents recommended universities provide annual training on First Amendment matters to all faculty, staff, and students.

“The approach to training is really two fold,” Claeys said. “We’ve been exploring development of a training module that can be used for the annual training to the entire campus community, and the purpose of that is really to provide high level training on the fundamentals of the First Amendment with a focus on freedom of expression.” 

In addition to campus-wide training, Claeys said the regent universities will also provide more in-depth training for targeted groups, such as administrators or faculty. 

Claeys said the regents could develop this training in-house, or find a company to partner with in developing a training module, and then share it with a larger audience. 

She said there are several companies that would be willing and able to create a 15 to 20 minute module, and the next step is having members of the free speech committee meet with firms to hear offers. 

The regents said they want to start providing this training in the fall 2021 semester

All students, faculty, and staff are expected to complete the First Amendment training, but Claeys said in the first year there won’t be any penalties for not completing it.  

“We would instead use encouragement and reminders to try to reach full compliance,” Claeys said. “No. 1, just because we’re in a transition year … Then the thought is that we would assess the compliance rate, the response rate, and then evaluate alternative options to bring that compliance rate much much higher.”

The actions of the freedom of speech committee are in line with House File 744, known as the education free speech bill, which was signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds on May 20 after passing in the Iowa House 92-1 and in the Senate 48-0.

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the bill states that the regents and directors of community colleges in Iowa must adopt a policy that includes specific statements regarding freedom of expression and the role of higher education in relation to free speech. 

The regents also must develop programs to inform people responsible for instruction and discipline about these policies. The bill says faculty members knowingly or intentionally in violation of the policy will face disciplinary measures.

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