Senate passes bill surrounding instruction of 'specified' concepts at North Dakota colleges

Paulson: Bill’s language amended from “divisive concepts” to “specified concepts” to remove emotional connotation of the former

North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck.
North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck.

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate passed a bill that focuses on the instruction of “specified concepts" at institutions of higher education across the state, by a count of 38-6, with three absent, during a floor vote on Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Senate Bill 2247 defines specified concepts as those that assert the U.S. is inherently racist or sexist, that all Americans are not created equal and endowed with inalienable rights and that meritocracies are oppressive by nature.

Previously, Senate Bill 2247 defined the aforementioned concepts as “divisive concepts”, but was amended by the Senate Education Committee to read as “specified concepts.” The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Paulson, R-Minot, told the Herald that although the amendments were made by committee members without his input, he believes they will be beneficial and not impact the bill’s reach should it become law.

“The word ‘divisive’ all by itself has the potential to evoke emotion, so I think going to ‘specified’ gets to the intent, which is to just define the concepts that the bill is attempting to address,” said Paulson.

The bill also contains a stipulation that all institutions of higher education in North Dakota conduct a “biennial, confidential and statistically sound survey of the institution’s students and employees to assess the campus climate regarding diversity of thought.”


Responding to queries about specific examples of the promotion of specified concepts at institutions of higher education, Paulson cited an instance of Black Lives Matter logos appearing on the helmets of football players at universities in North Dakota.

Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, said during floor debate on Tuesday that constituents have expressed concern over the influence of specified concepts at institutions of higher education, which she argued should be devoid of such ideology as they are taxpayer funded.

“Elections have consequences and our constituents are concerned about this,” said Myrdal. “If you read through this bill, it doesn’t silence speech at all — it just says that in our state, we should not have ideologies that have been pushed through higher education nationwide.”

The bill does contain a clause explicitly protecting free speech, stating "this chapter does not authorize and institution to infringe on the rights of freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."

Speaking in opposition to the bill during floor debate, Sen. Ryan Braunberger, D-Fargo, said the way the instruction of specified concepts is outlined in the bill will “prevent universities from educating on the mistakes this country has made in the past, which will only lead to repeating these mistakes.”

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, also spoke in opposition to the bill during floor debate, arguing that regulating specified concepts goes beyond the Legislature’s purview.

“It is important that the Board of Higher Education deals with matters like this,” said Mathern. “For us as a Legislature to intervene in the actual details of the Board of Higher Education and universities is problematic constitutionally.”


Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify the bill would not ban these specified concepts.

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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