More than a third of students participated in free speech training

Faculty and staff saw significantly higher participation in the survey across the institutions than students. Some conservatives report a better learning environment in recent months.


Photo illustration by Isabella Cervantes.

Natalie Dunlap, Politics Editor

More than a third of students enrolled at state Board of Regents institutions completed first amendment training in the spring 2022 semester.

On the University of Iowa campus, 35 percent of students and 57 percent of faculty and staff completed the training.

Across all colleges, faculty and staff had a higher completion rate, and the UI had the lowest participation rate of the three schools.

The University of Northern Iowa had participation from 39 percent of students and 76 percent of staff, while Iowa State had participation from 37 percent of students and 81 percent of staff.

Iowa law required Board of Regents institutions to implement the training. Instruction from UI  President Barbara Wilson and Board of Regents President Mike Richards said students, faculty, and staff were expected to complete the training by the end of the spring 2022 semester.

This requirement came about in reaction to some instances on campus where conservative students reported not feeling able to express themselves. This included when College Republicans chalked messages in support of the police, former President Donald Trump, and anti-abortion sentiments. Other students then washed away the messages with water, prompting the UI  to issue a statement on their chalking policy.

RELATED: University clarifies campus chalk policy after College Republicans chalk Pentacrest

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said he was receiving a significant amount of complaints from conservatives on Iowa campuses about the environment a year and a half ago, but that the atmosphere seems to have improved significantly on campus in the last six to eight months, he estimated.

According to the University of Iowa Campus Climate Survey conducted in 2021, 44 percent of undergraduate students at the UI reported feeling less likely to be respected.

“I’ve actually had some people reach out and say, hey, whatever you guys did, whatever the university or whoever did, it’s sure working because we feel a lot more fairly represented and a lot more fairly treated,” he said.

RELATED: University of Iowa College of Dentistry to alter approach to student speech

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, who has worked as an educator and is a member of the Iowa House education committee, said she supports the intent behind the training

“I don’t have a problem with teaching what is and isn’t OK and making sure that everybody is on the same page in terms of freedom of speech and making sure that everybody is on the same page in terms of what that entails,” Mascher said.

In the same vein, Mascher added she also doesn’t want to see censorship of books including topics some legislators find controversial. Republicans, such as Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Des Moines, proposed punishing K-12 educators for offering books including topics of racial injustice and queer characters, claiming in the opening on of the 2022 legislative session that some educators had a “sinister agenda.”

“I just think it sends a chill into the hearts of educators who are there to provide a good learning environment for students,” Mascher said.