Proposed bill would monitor speakers on Arizona college campuses

Proposed bill would monitor speakers on AZ college campuses
Published: Feb. 19, 2020 at 6:43 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A republican-introduced bill in the state house is aiming to make lectures and speeches more even when it comes to politics, but colleges aren’t on board.

House Bill 2238 would make the Arizona Board of Regents fund a new office that would require speakers from opposing views to be at college events. The bill would also require universities to film, and make public every debate, forum and individual lecture that they put on—and keep it for five years. Universities would have to create an accessible calendar of events and send a copy to the governor, state Senate, House and Secretary of State.

“I thought it was ridiculous. I thought it was overreaching,” said Rep. Geraldine Peten (D). “I don’t think it’s the legislature’s responsibility to create syllabuses.”

Peten voted against the bill that just passed committee 7-4. She also pointed out funding becomes an issue if colleges are paying for travel and performances, plus staff time to keep the office running. There is no extra funding proposed in the bill.

The Arizona Board of Regents said it is against HB 2238 because the lack of funding and because “it requires universities to ‘prioritize’ certain speakers.” Rep. Anthony Kern (R), who sponsored and wrote the bill, said it will help students.

“It is important that our colleges and universities are safe places for debate of ideas across the political spectrum. This law would help universities ensure open and vibrant discussions. And that’s exactly what we want out of our institutions of learning,” he said in a statement.

The Arizona Board of Regents issued its own statement:

ABOR took a position of opposition on HB 2238 (universities; public policy events) based on board policy position regarding the addition of new mandates, responsibilities, or costs without commensurate funding. The bill represents an unfunded mandate requiring the establishment of an office of public policy events at each university. Establishing this new office would require funding for staff and functions that the office is tasked to accomplish. In addition, the legislation presents constitutionality concerns as it requires universities to “prioritize” certain speakers; this involves decision making based on content. Protected speech on the campuses is subject only to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.

Arizona’s public universities are recognized as exemplars in free speech. Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona are all recognized with the highest “green light” rating from FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). The board and the universities strive to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression and are committed to protecting free expression. ABOR general education policy addresses the central mission of Arizona’s public universities to provide education that prepares students to become engaged citizens, critical thinkers and lifelong learners.

In addition, the board and universities presented the inaugural Regents’ Cup last year – an event showcasing the commitment of the universities to upholding the intrinsic rights of all students to liberty and freedom of speech. The debate competition provides students with the opportunity to compete for scholarships and course credit in an event that showcases freedom of expression at Arizona’s public universities.

To view the full text of the bill click here.

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