Public colleges preparing for new state law that calls for ‘intellectual diversity’

  • Print
Listen to this story

Subscriber Benefit

As a subscriber you can listen to articles at work, in the car, or while you work out. Subscribe Now
This audio file is brought to you by
Loading audio file, please wait.
  • 0.25
  • 0.50
  • 0.75
  • 1.00
  • 1.25
  • 1.50
  • 1.75
  • 2.00
A new state law exemplifiies the push and pull between conservatives and liberals over what should be taught in college lecture halls. (Adobe Stock photo).

A new state law aimed at countering state college environments that could be viewed as unfriendly or hostile to conservatives is raising concerns among some faculty as colleges work to figure out what compliance looks like.

Senate Enrolled Act 202 was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in March and calls for the implementation of “intellectual diversity” programming at state-funded universities in Indiana.

Under the new law, faculty members at public universities will be required to teach scholarly works “from a variety of political or ideological frameworks” within the faculty member’s purview of instruction. Those found in violation could face disciplinary action or lose tenure protections, depending on how schools implement the law.

Two professors at Purdue University Fort Wayne are suing the school to prevent it from being implemented, claiming the law isn’t clear on what material faculty will be required to teach.

Sen. Deery

The legislation was authored by Republican state senators Spencer Deery of West Lafayette, Jeff Raatz of Richmond and Tyler Johnson of Leo.

Deery has said the new law is necessary to provide a more robust definition of diversity and belonging on college campuses.

Others see the law as part of a trend among Republican-led states that have moved to limit tenure and target diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Schools subject to the new requirements are Ball State University, Indiana State University, Indiana University, Ivy Tech Community College, Purdue University, the University of Southern Indiana and Vincennes University.

Concerns among faculty

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit on May 7 against the trustees of Purdue University on behalf of faculty members at the university’s Fort Wayne campus.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Steven Carr and David Schuster, who are both tenured faculty at the school.

Carr, a communications professor, is also the director of the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the Fort Wayne campus.

Schuster is an associate professor in the university’s history department.

The lawsuit says the professors’ biggest issue lies in the language of the bill, which states faculty members must “foster a culture of free inquiry, free expression and intellectual diversity within the institution.”

The professors say they are unsure what that phrase means, arguing the unclear language could open the coursework requirements to include potentially dangerous viewpoints, according to court documents.

“Just to take Professor Carr’s example, he teaches about the Holocaust,” said Stevie Pactor, a staff attorney with ACLU of Indiana representing the plaintiffs in the case. “It’s a real concern for him, ‘Do I have to teach you the perspective of Holocaust denial or Holocaust revisionism?’ Because if the criteria you’re supposed to use is stuff that exists in the body of scholarly works, well, that’s there.”

In an op-ed for Based in Lafayette, an independent news site, Deery argues faculty are already required to foster intellectual diversity and this law exists to make it more formal.

Further, he disagrees with the assumption that the law pushes for the teaching of offensive material.

“It’s ludicrous to claim that valuing intellectual diversity is a mandate to teach something offensive or non-scholarly, such as the ‘other side’ of genocide,” he said in an email to Indiana Lawyer.

Deery dismissed the ACLU’s claims and said the language of the law is designed to let individual universities decide what works for them.

“It’s the ACLU. It’s what they do whether there is anything there or not,” Deery said in a written statement. “Senate Enrolled Act 202 was carefully crafted to protect academic freedom, promote free speech and strengthen the quality of education Hoosiers receive. It was designed to withstand desperate measures from those who do not want to see changes in the culture and practices of higher education or who insist their narrow worldview is the only one that counts.”

But Purdue professors are not the only ones concerned about what the new changes could mean for keeping faculty at the schools.


Moira Marsh, a librarian for anthropology, folklore and sociology at Indiana University Bloomington believes the law is government overreach, fearing the state government regulation of tenure could mean that the rules for faculty could change with each legislative session.

Marsh, who’s also president of the Indiana Conference of the American Association of University Professors, believes fellow faculty members maintain the best judgment when it comes to approving faculty work, tenure and more.

“We police each other,” she said.

Implementing the law

Public universities across the state are now working to adhere to the new law, which goes into effect on July 1.

Back in March, Indiana University President Pamela Whitten said the university is working on how to approach the law in a way that includes faculty input.

“Any steps required for legal compliance will include and affirm our values of intellectual rigor and academic freedom,” Whitten said. “Our academic processes of review for hiring, renewal, tenure and promotion will continue to be applied.”

Two faculty members at Purdue University Fort Wayne are challenging a new state law that encourages “intellectual diversity,” claiming it is unclear about what they will be required to teach. (Photo courtesy of Purdue University Fort Wayne.)

Purdue’s Board of Trustees has vocalized its dedication to following the expectations of the new law, releasing a statement on June 7 to reaffirm their “commitment to institutional neutrality and delegated additional authority and responsibilities.”

“…the Statement of Policy on Institutional Neutrality was approved and adopted as the official Purdue policy, reflecting the university’s existing and long-standing practice,” said Steve Schultz, senior vice president and general counsel. “As required by SEA 202, this policy provides that the university will refrain from taking an official institutional position on a government proposal or policy debate that touches on a social or political issue being contested in the public arena unless that proposal or policy has a direct bearing on the university’s fiscal affairs or on the tools afforded to it to advance its land-grant mission.”

Indiana Lawyer reached out to leaders at the other schools impacted by the law.

The University of Southern Indiana said it is working to comply with the law but offered no further comment.

Ball State declined to comment. Indiana State, Ivy Tech and Vincennes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Legislation across the country

Since it was introduced, critics have grouped Senate Bill 202 with “anti-diversity, equity and inclusion” laws impacting higher education across the country, including in Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Utah.

According to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education, since 2023, 14 anti-DEI bills across 12 states have been passed in the U.S.

Last June, the governor of Texas passed a law banning college diversity, equity and inclusion programming that doesn’t comply with sections of the state constitution.

The University of Texas cut 311 full- and part-time positions across its nine academic and five health campuses as a result, according to a report from NBC News.

And in Tennessee, the governor signed a bill that ends mandatory implicit-bias training.

Despite the critics, Deery doesn’t believe the law is anti-DEI.

“I believe schools should help students of all backgrounds enroll and succeed,” he said. “The law doesn’t interfere with that, but it does ask colleges to also promote a more robust definition of diversity and belonging than the narrow and superficial definition that often drives the conversation.”•

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}