Bill To Create Statewide 'Free Speech Committee' Overseeing Universities Headed To Governor’s Desk


Monday, April 18th 2022, 5:23 pm


OKLAHOMA CITY -

A measure passed off the Senate Floor Monday to create a ‘Free Speech Committee’ that will oversee Oklahoma’s public universities and colleges. 

House author Representative Chad Caldwell (R-Enid) says he wants HB 3543 to ensure protection of all speech. 

 “To protect the rights and the free speech rights for all of our faculty and staff. It’s not punitive, it’s not trying to be one-sided or the other. Free speech should be a non-partisan or bipartisan issue.” 

Representative Caldwell says his concern about the issue comes in part from the national research group TheFire.org. 

“Anecdotally, I’ve heard about different grades that have been given, certainly there have been some instances where there have been some professors that have maybe espoused a different viewpoint that have been suspended or even terminated,” he said.   

The Oklahoma State Board of Regents will oversee the Free Speech Committee.  

The committee is directed to create a first amendment training for school leadership and develop a process of collecting complaints.  

On the Senate Floor, lawmakers questioned how the committee would be established.  

“The bill does not speak to whether it's the regents directly or its the administration of the state regents who will select the committee members,” said Senate author Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville).  

The measure passed 43-to-2 and is now eligible to be signed by the governor.  

The State Board of Regents responded to the passage in a statement this afternoon, saying:  

“We’re aware that HB 3543 passed on the Senate floor today. As public colleges and universities, our state system institutions embrace the First Amendment and recognize the importance of free speech, which is reflected in myriad viewpoints shared through academic discourse on campuses across the state. If this measure becomes law, we will follow the provisions to create a process that ensures our institutions continue to be places where the open exchange of ideas and perspectives is encouraged and protected.” 

Communications staff with the state board say they are unaware of a committee of this type being created in the past.