FILE - Arizona State University

An Arizona lawmaker has introduced legislation that he believes would ensure that public universities in the state expose students to diverse opinions. 

Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, introduced the Arizona Campus Intellectual Diversity Act, which would mandate that all public university systems in the state be required to ensure that students and faculty will be exposed to all sides of controversial issues. The proposal would also include provisions that mandate schools to search out and fund opposing viewpoints.

House Bill 2238 would also require the Arizona Board of Regents, the state’s public higher education governing body, to create a new office of Public Policy Events on each university campus to host events from multiple sides of a particular argument. 

For example, an HB 2238-mandated office of Public Policy Events would have the responsibility to organize and stage debates, forums and lectures that address issues “from multiple, divergent and opposing perspectives,” Capitol Media Services reports

The bill would also mandate that the new offices actively seek out speakers from outside the university system who have contrary viewpoints to those on campus. Kern's bill would require the school, on a case-by-case basis, to provide honoraria, travel, and lodging expenses for speakers invited to the college for schedule debates and individual lectures.

Campus free speech bills similar to Kern's have been introduced in states like North Carolina, Colorado, Utah and Virginia. More states this year are preparing to propose similar bills in other state legislatures. 

Each of the bills are based on several variations of model legislation developed by the conservative-leaning Goldwater Institute, based in Phoenix. According to the institute, the model bill would “open [up] debate more important than on America’s college campuses.”

Stanley Kurtz, a contributor to National Review magazine and a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., also developed a free speech model bill last year. Kern’s bill more emulates the model presented by Kurtz.

Despite the seemingly favorable optics of similar proposals, some civil liberty groups are concerned over the precedence a free speech mandate could have on public university campuses. 

The American Civil Liberties Union and advocacy campaigns like the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) have, at times, declared opposition or mixed support for these types of bills. NCAC previously sent a letter to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper asking him to veto a free speech bill for concerns that political infusions could make it into academia more so than those phenomena currently on campus.

“Rather than adopt unnecessary and burdensome requirements into law, we strongly urge your office to sponsor a collaborative and university-led campaign for the review and adoption of institutional free speech policies statewide,” NCAC said in a letter. “We would be happy to assist in drafting such a policy, as we have considerable experience and expertise in this area.” 

NCAC sent Cooper the letter with the American Association of University Professors, which advocates for institutional and internal mechanisms to regulate protests, free speech, and speakers. 

Both the Goldwater and the Kurtz model proposals mandate public university governing bodies, like the Board of Regents, to utilize taxpayer dollars to implement the proposed free speech regulations.

The free speech bill in North Carolina took effect in 2017 even though Cooper, a Democrat, never signed the legislation.