Protest Against Indiana Senate Bill 202: Advocates Warn of Threat to Public Universities, Academic Freedom, and Student Recruitment

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – FEBRUARY 14: Indiana University business professor Dan Smith gives testimony in opposition to SB202 on February 14, 2024, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)

On Wednesday, college professors, students, and concerned citizens took a stand against Indiana Senate Bill 202, contending that it poses a threat to public universities in the state. They argue that the bill infringes on the rights of college professors, undermines academic freedom and tenure, and renders the recruitment of top students to Indiana institutions nearly impossible.

Testimonies went on for more than three hours, and only one person, aside from GOP politicians, spoke in favor of the bill.

Senator Spencer Deery, R-West Lafayette, the bill’s author, stated that the purpose was to create a more welcoming environment for Republicans and conservatives on Indiana college campuses, opposing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Opponents said his bill would have other consequences, and chill free expression on campus.

Deery, citing data from the Gallup Organization, pointed out a decline in confidence in higher education among Republicans from 56% to 15-19% by 2023. The Pew Foundation expressed concern about professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom, with 79% of Republicans more worried about this than tuition costs. A survey commissioned by the General Assembly in Indiana found disparities in the comfort levels of political conservatives (46%) versus liberals (79%) expressing their opinions in the classroom.

When questioned, Deery did not disclose the names of the college administrators he claimed to be working with.

Democratic State Representative Ed DeLaney questioned whether professors would be compelled to teach specific views, such as those of Robert F. Kennedy, who opposes vaccinations. DeLaney also raised concerns about mandatory teaching logs, the potential for students to report professors for uncomfortable views, and the financial impact of firing contracted professors on universities.

Many individuals spoke against the bill, except for retired Indiana University business professor Eric Rasmussen, who supported it. Rasmussen alleged discriminatory practices within the business school related to diversity, equity, and inclusion statements.

Opponents, including sociology student Makayla from Ball State, criticized SB 202 for government overreach, restricting academic freedom, and fostering an atmosphere of fear for both students and faculty engaging in political or ideological discussions.

Dan Smith from the Kelley School of Business defended the school’s quality and denied faculty indoctrination. He emphasized the competitive nature of recruiting top faculty globally and warned of potential ideological tests.

Dr. Gardner Bovington, from the Department of Central Eurasian Studies and International Studies, sarcastically thanked the framers of SB202 for bringing Indiana closer to the People’s Republic of China in terms of political supervision of teaching content. Bovington argued against the bill, asserting that academic decisions should be driven by analytical precision and research rather than ideological concerns.

Jonathan Schlesinger, an Associate Professor in the Department of History, expressed concern about SB 202’s potential impact on scholarly work, teaching, and academic freedom. He mentioned conversations with colleagues in other states who shared similar worries about political oversight affecting their careers and principles.

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