Indiana University student Taylor Bryant recently responded to a survey about campus free speech issues, and she certainly has a unique perspective.

A Republican and undergraduate student studying pre-law and public policy, Bryant, who is 19, is also the chairman of the Monroe County Republican Party.

The survey, launched by the Commission for Higher Education earlier this month and required by state law, aims to gauge student perceptions of free speech on Indiana’s public college campuses. .

Bryant, who takes many public policy courses, thinks students with conservative views may be reluctant to speak up in class or, in some cases, when they share their ideas, “the professor shuts them down. Whether it’s to protect a student against other liberal students or to keep the class civil… I don’t know, but they don’t do this with leftist ideas.

In his view, while discussion is encouraged with students expressing more liberal views, this does not occur with more conservative viewpoints.

“I’ll speak up if there’s anything that I feel very passionately about that isn’t being portrayed properly,” she said. But she feels she has to pick her battles, not a choice liberal-leaning students have to make, in her assessment.

Students like Bryant could be behind free speech legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly last year and this year.

In early April, following legislation passed in 2021, the Higher Education Commission launched the Free Speech Survey which was emailed to all full-time undergraduate students from Indiana’s public institutions of higher learning, including part-time students from the University of Vincennes and Ivy Community College of Technology.

The survey is open throughout April and asks students to answer questions about free speech and academic freedom on campus.

Indiana public institutions funded the survey, with each campus paying about $13,000, according to the state Commission. Gallup, a national polling organization, sent the survey to nearly 150,000 undergraduate students at all public institutions in the state.

Another bill passed this year, HB 1190, “protects free speech in public colleges and universities” in Indiana, according to a press release from the Indiana Republican Caucus.

According to Chalkbeat Indiana, the bill codifies federal free speech protections into state law and also allows students and student groups to sue for damages.

This would prevent public educational institutions from prohibiting demonstrations or the distribution of leaflets in certain areas of campus or from denying these rights to groups of students because of their ideology.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, the law prohibits so-called “free speech zones,” which unconstitutionally quarantine speech in restricted areas of campus.

Universities could still apply restrictions on when, where and how to demonstrate or distribute leaflets.

In addition, public universities should submit an annual complaint report to the Higher Education Commission.

Students or student organizations who believe that their right to free speech on campus has been violated may take legal action; a court ruling in their favor could award up to $50,000 in compensatory damages, court costs and attorneys’ fees.

As required by HEA 1549 passed in 2021, the Commission produced both a report and an investigation on the topic of free speech on Indiana college campuses.

The Commission partnered with public colleges in Gallup and Indiana to develop and administer the survey. A report on the survey results will be released this fall.

IU student Bryant took the survey and thinks it’s a good idea. “It will be interesting to see the results,” she said.

Some students at Indiana State University on Thursday were unaware of the investigation, but they believed free speech was encouraged on campus. Emily Harbison, a sophomore at ISU, believes that professors encourage a diversity of viewpoints.

ISU junior Claire Pittman echoed Harbison’s view, and she doesn’t think students should be shy about sharing their opinions on the issues.

In the survey, the students present are asked if they can freely express their point of view; whether freedom of expression is highly valued; is a place where students can freely express their opinions on race, politics and religion (the rating ranges from strongly agree to strongly disagree).

Another question asks if students from the following groups can openly express their opinions: male, female, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, black, white, Hispanic, politically liberal students, politically conservative students, LGBTQ+ students, and students born outside the United States.

He also asks, “Do instructors listen to people with different opinions?” and “Do other students listen to people with different opinions?”

According to the Commission’s report, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education maintains a database containing information about potential free speech violations on public campuses in Indiana.

“Since its inception, FIRE has identified hundreds of potential cases on campuses across the country limiting speech. In the past decade, only four of those potential cases have involved public institutions in Indiana,” says the Commission.

FIRE also maintains a database of attempts to get colleges and universities to uninvite speakers.

Described as a “Heckler veto,” it involves campus suppression of speech in response to actual disruption or threats thereof.

Over the past decade, FIRE has documented two attempts to disinvite speakers from speaking on Indiana’s public campuses, according to the Commission.

Other views

Attempts to reach and interview Representative Jack Jordan, author of the free speech legislation, were unsuccessful.

Some Republican lawmakers cited examples of conservative and religious groups facing alleged discrimination on college campuses to explain the origin of the free speech legislation, according to Chalkbeat.

Paul Helmke, professor of practice at IU’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said HB 1190 passed without opposition in the House and Senate.

On the surface, it’s hard to argue with efforts to protect free speech. “It feels like motherhood and apple pie type stuff,” he said.

But the potential number of free speech violations at Indiana’s public colleges, as documented by FIRE, is minimal, he said.

“If there are no real problems anyone has spotted, why are they doing all this?” Helmke said. “It must be expensive to send out the survey and compile the results.”

Helmke, a former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne, believes that “it’s a question that’s overblown…I think there’s a lot of strong debate” on college campuses.

He thinks college professors encourage debate and a diversity of opinions, as long as students are on point and don’t disrupt the class.

If students with conservative views are reluctant to voice their views, Helmke suggests it’s not so much a matter of professors not allowing speech as it is worrying about how their classmates will react.

“Feeling uncomfortable in class does not mean there is a violation of free speech,” Helmke said.

FIRE describes itself as non-partisan and supported both the investigation and HB 1190.

Tyler Coward, FIRE’s senior legislative counsel, believes the survey that was sent to students “provides valuable insights to campus leaders about students’ perceptions of free speech.”

A nonprofit educational foundation, FIRE states that its mission “is to defend and maintain individual rights in America’s colleges and universities.” He has worked on campus civil liberties issues, primarily free speech and due process guarantees, since 1999, he said.

While the organization has received millions of dollars in contributions from politically active conservative nonprofits, according to SourceWatch, Coward claims no donor influenced FIRE to take a stand on a free speech controversy. .

Because of FIRE’s work with colleges across the country, the number of institutional policies that restrict student speech “has decreased dramatically,” he said.

That doesn’t mean the job is done, he says.

He described a “dramatic increase in attempts to fire professors for their opinions…and I think that’s a really troubling sign,” he said.

Also, some polls show that college students tend to be more receptive to ideas that censorship is a good thing and “it’s a worrying trend,” Coward said, for example, college students think violence at word you don’t like is appropriate.

“FIRE is not only worried about what government actors, administrators themselves are doing, but we are worried if there is a cultural trend that turns its back on free speech,” he said. -he declares.

State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis and retired attorney, voted in favor of HB 1190. “Who’s Against Free Speech?” he said.

But he didn’t see the need either. “We have a whole system of federal constitutional free speech laws that apply to state universities. And there was no breakdown in that system,” he said.

Joseph Tomain, a senior lecturer at IU’s Maurer School of Law, worries that some aspects of the law are chilling free speech on campus.

For example, if a complaint is filed against a public educational institution regarding a violation of freedom of expression, this information will have to be provided to the Higher Education Commission, which will create a report each year compiling the information and the submitting to the Governor and General Assembly.

“Anytime the government requires reporting to the government on speech issues, I think it raises concerns about a potentially chilling effect on speech,” Tomain said. “It’s not a partisan argument; it could go either way.”

In general, he believes that “to the extent that this bill gives us the opportunity to have good conversations about these principles [of free speech]that could be a positive of it all, of course.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or [email protected] Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.