Senate Bill 202 creates new terms on a certain path to bad outcomes

by | Feb 28, 2024 | Politics/Government

photo from Indiana Capital Chronicle/Getty

I am in the business of words. Few people choose a career path that leads to regular debates about whether the use of words like “moreover” or “furthermore” read like the connection of one scolding to another. Even fewer of us enjoy those debates as much as I do. 

Senate Bill 202, legislation now on the floor of the Indiana House of Representatives, is an attempt to make public universities more welcoming to those with conservative views. That’s a difficult task for obvious reasons. First, the strained solution that Sen. Spencer Deery, a Republican from Tippecanoe County, has developed in this bill presumes there is a problem. I disagree on that foundational point. Second, he believes the legislature can solve this perceived problem. And that is pure comedy. 

The bill relies on Deery’s desire for “intellectual diversity” at Indiana’s public universities. Not familiar with that term? I wasn’t either. When I first read it, I thought it meant “the differences between smart people and stupid people.” After a weekend exercise in amateur lexicology, I have failed in disproving my original interpretation. 

In my exercise, I first dissected the term and evaluated what the words mean separately to determine what they must mean together. According to Dictionary.com, “intellectual” means, in part: “the faculty of thinking and acquiring knowledge.” “Diversity” means, “difference; unlikeness; variety.” Put them together and the term must then mean, “the differences in the faculty of thinking and acquiring knowledge,” right? 

My original interpretation survives. 

Ideological diversity

We should put that exercise aside though. That’s not what the Indiana General Assembly means when they use the term in 2024. What they mean is “ideological diversity,” but for some strange reason, they won’t say what they mean. Why not?

The first discovery I made in my research was in a paper by Professor Stanley Fish, from Florida International University’s College of Law. He traces the term’s rise to prominent use to David Horwitz, founder of the right-wing David Horwitz Freedom Center, in a speech to conservative students in April of 2003. Horwitz said:

“I encourage [you] to use the language that the left has deployed so effectively on behalf of its own agendas. [Say] radical professors have created a ‘hostile learning environment’ for conservative students. [Say] there is a lack of ‘intellectual diversity’ on college faculties and in academic classrooms…”

The term is the feature of a playbook that started twenty years ago. It’s mostly meaningless, because again, the playbook presumes there is a problem that this nonsensical term cries out to identify and solve. But the rally cry does create a good villain: any institution where lefties gather for purposes of being lefties. It’s similar to conservative state legislatures fighting with liberal cities, but the only made-up word being used on that front so far seems to be “woke.”

Using these code words attracts other unintellectual, excuse me, intellectually diverse ideas as well. I point to one committee amendment in particular for evidence of this.

Proposed Amendment #19 for Senate Bill 202 was filed by Rep. Becky Cash, R-Zionsville. The amendment stated that “a student enrolled in a health profession education program may not be required to receive an immunization…” In other words, the Indiana University Medical School, the largest medical school in the country, would not be able to require its students be vaccinated as a condition of admission. 

Uh, so, Cash wants the state’s pillar of medical training to produce doctors who don’t believe in medicine. If ever there was an example of intellectual diversity, Cash personified it with Proposed Amendment #19. We should begin to refer to brilliant ideas like this as “an old #19” moving forward. (The amendment was ultimately not added in committee.)

David Horwitz would respect us for coining the phrase. 

Casey Smith reported on the bill last week for the Indiana Capital Chronicle during the House Education Committee hearing. Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, played along with my desire to have legislation say what it means and having the words on the paper match the bill’s intent. DeLaney thinks the legislature should instead just pass a resolution to say, “We don’t like the universities, and we wish there were fewer liberals.”

Senate Bill 202 is the kind of legislation that only exists when a supermajority has run out of ideas. Pardon me, what I meant was, when a supermajority has run out of good ideas. IU, Purdue, Ball State and our other public universities will never be conservative private schools like Hillsdale College or Liberty University. If our excellent public universities are ever successfully transformed into laboratories for the intellectually diverse, they will soon after cease to exist. 

The reason any university exists is to create knowledge. Not to reduce it. 

1 Comment

  1. Patricia McGuffey

    Once again Michael you have nailed the truth behind the legislative intent. This legislation is comical but sadly also dangerous. Thanks for once again pointing out the absurdity of these proposal’s.

    Reply

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