A Glendale Republican lawmaker says he’s found a way to ensure that university students get all sides of controversial issues: force the schools to search out — and, if necessary, fund — opposing viewpoints.
Rep. Anthony Kern said he believes that students are not getting all sides of issues when guests are invited to any of the state’s three universities. He said that’s wrong, particularly at schools which are funded with tax dollars.
“What we’re trying to do is train our students to become citizens, good citizens of the United States,” he told Capitol Media Services.
“In order to do that you cannot just feed them one certain point of view at our universities,” Kern continued. “You’ve got to give them both sides of the issue and let them make that decision.”
To do that, his HB 2238 requires the Board of Regents to establish, fund and staff a new Office of Public Policy Events at each university.
It would be the responsibility of each office to organize and stage debates, forums and lectures that address issues “from multiple, divergent and opposing perspective.”
More to the point, Kern said that office would have to seek out speakers from outside the university who have contrary positions to those being taken by people who have been brought to campus. And the school also would, as necessary, have to provide honoraria and travel and lodging expenses for those who the office invites to campus, whether for debates or individual lectures.
Kern acknowledged that, in many cases, the people invited to speak are not through the university itself but by student groups. And in those cases, he said, there would be no mandate for university officials to find a counter speaker.
But Kern said this new public policy office would be charged with at least keeping track of all those speakers and creating a report, possibly for legislative leaders.
“And part of their responsibility would be to let us, the citizens of Arizona and legislators … and let them know who’s coming on campus the past year or two years,” he explained.
“This is not to diminish free speech in any way, shape or fashion,” Kern said. But he defended seeking a state mandate to find opposing views.
“It’s not happening now,” he said.
“I think taxpayers deserve, if a student goes to these universities, that there’s a well-rounded discussion on a variety of topics and the student get both points of view,” Kern said. “And the taxpayer can be assured that both points of view are being presented.”
And Kern said that, as far as he’s concerned, all issues have two sides.
“I would leave that up to common-sense rulemaking, whatever the public policy office would want to do on that,” he said. “But if you have any topic, any topic, at least present both sides of the issue, no matter what the topic.”
But does that mean finding someone who denies the Holocaust occurred if someone is on campus speaking on that, or finding someone who says humans have been around for just 6,000 year to balance a talk about human evolution?
“I don’t think there are any limits to free speech in the country we live in,” Kern said.
“On any topic, I think it serves our students well, it serves the taxpayers well that on any topic there are two sides to every issue,” he continued. “So let’s hear them. And let the hearer determine which side, no matter what the topic, determine which side is truth, which side is not, which side they want to sit and agree with.”
Still, Kern said, that doesn’t mean having to bring someone to campus at the same time and in the same venue.
“But if you schedule, let’s say, a conservative viewpoint, then you would schedule a non-conservative viewpoint, or vice versa,” he explained. “If you schedule a non-conservative viewpoint, a speaker come in, then you should have to have an opposing viewpoint also discussed.”
Kern said it would be up to this new public policy officer to search out opposing viewpoints. And he said that should not be difficult.
“You and I could Google pretty much any topic and find speakers on that particular issue,” he said.
“So I don’t think it’s really going to be a rough adventure for any of these universities to find speakers,” Kern said. “They know the networking out there and they know what’s going on.”
And if they can’t?
“Just feel free to, again, just reach out to the Legislature,” he said. `We could help you find some good speakers.”