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House passes higher ed free speech bill

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Ray Holmberg2 / 2

BISMARCK—The North Dakota House voted Monday in favor of a bill that directs the State Board of Higher Education and its institutions to form a free speech policy.

The House voted 87-3 to pass the bill originally introduced in the state Senate by Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks.

The amended language of Senate Bill 2320 directs the board and each institution to adopt a free speech policy by Aug. 27 that protects students' rights to free speech, assembly and expression. The policy should also permit institutions to establish and enforce reasonable institutional time, place and manner restrictions on free speech.

Additionally, the policy should allow students, faculty and student organizations to invite guest speakers or groups "regardless of the viewpoint or content of the anticipated speech," the bill states.

Finally, the bill said the policy must also protect the academic freedom and free speech rights of faculty "while adhering to guidelines established by the American Association of University Professors."

The original version of the bill was six pages long and included specific regulations for guest speakers at North Dakota University System campuses.

Jared Melville, president of the North Dakota Student Association and student at North Dakota State University, said the Student Association is "pleased with the passage" of the bill, noting the SBHE has not had an updated free speech policy since 1984

"It's good to see that there is now some urgency to modernize the policy," he said.

Melville said that when the NDSA met in February, student leaders felt there had not been any egregious violations of free speech rights at campuses. He added that students had concerns with the original form of the bill in terms of the campuses' abilities to step in when student-on-student harassment occurs. Student leaders were also concerned about the Legislature being the body to create the policy.

"Students are happy to see that the legislation was amended so that the State Board remains in control of drafting and approving the policy, because as it moves forward through the higher education bureaucracy, students will be able to have a higher level of input on the policy," he said.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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