Government Relations

UM Legislative Update Newsletter

March 2, 2007

House Higher Education Committee passes intellectual diversity bill

The House Higher Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Gayle Kingery (R-Poplar Bluff), heard testimony on Tuesday, Feb. 27, on HB213, which establishes the intellectual diversity act. Sponsored by Rep. Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield), the bill would require each public institution to prepare a report annually to the Department of Higher Education to detail steps taken to ensure intellectual diversity on the campus. The bill lists several examples of items that could be included in the report. It also requires that institutions post information on websites for students about the process they can go through to register a complaint.

The centerpiece of the legislation is a case from Missouri State University in Springfield, where a social work student refused to participate in a course paper that required her to write legislators in support of gay adoption, against her personal religious beliefs. The student, Emily Brooker, who has since completed her undergraduate degree, testified before the committee about her encounters with a faculty committee which eventually led to the filing of a lawsuit. MSU settled out of court and began a series of activities to ensure that such actions do not take place in the future. The bill is named in Brooker’s honor.

Among those who testified for the bill was University of Missouri Board of Curators member David Wasinger, who told the committee that the issue of intellectual pluralism is on the board’s agenda for later this spring. He indicated many of the issues that have been raised as a result of the legislation could serve as a framework for future discussions. Committee members also heard from Frank Schmidt, a member of the MU Faculty Council and the Intercampus Faculty Council. Schmidt, who spoke on his own behalf in opposition to the legislation, argued that the legislation is not needed and opens the door to government determining what is taught in the courses.

In an executive session that followed the hearing, the committee voted to pass the bill by a 5-3 vote along party lines. The bill has since been reported out of committee and to the Rules Committee, where it is expected to be considered next week.

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