Indiana House Passes Controversial SB202 Amidst Campus Protests: Advocates Fear Threat to Academic Freedom and Free Speech in Higher Education

Staff report

Bloomington, Indiana – February 27, 2024

The Indiana House passed Senate Bill 202 in a vote that was cast while a group of professors, students, and community members rallied on the Indiana University campus in opposition to SB202. The Bill now heads back to the Indiana Senate for a hearing on amendments made by the House, then on to the Governor’s office to be signed into law.

         Tuesday was a Day of Action on campuses across the state to defend academic freedom in higher education, with fears that SB202 will interfere with academic freedom and stifle free speech on college campuses. The Green Feather Coalition organized the event in Bloomington, using green feathers as a symbol of solidarity standing against censorship at Indiana’s universities. A crowd gathered on the east side of Lindley Hall, home to the Kinsey Institute, in a grassy area by a bronze statue of Alfred Kinsey.

         Indiana University Professor Emeritus Russ Skiba, who spoke at the event, said, “The term intellectual diversity is fundamentally dishonest. The term was first used by hyper-conservative faculty. And this whole issue, this bit about protecting the free speech of conservatives, and this is not a place where free speech is protected – the commission on higher education in Indiana just last fall released a report saying that 75% of Indiana’s undergraduates, three-quarters of them, feel that free speech is highly valued at their campus, and that all groups, except Native Americans, have the ability and the right to speak out on their campus.”

Professor Skiba continued, “This is why some people call this bill out as discriminatory or racist because professors could be demoted, professors could be fired, they can be moved down from full professor to associate to assistant just for talking about racism and discrimination. And then, on top of that, there’s a system of reporting. The university has to put in place a system whereby any student can report out a faculty who violates this principle of intellectual diversity.”

 “The super majority legislature doesn’t want to hear about people of color, their history, and the way they’re discriminated against today,” Professor Skiba said. “They are willing to go so far to enforce that that they’re willing to tear down the entire structure of tenure.” While some may find history uncomfortable, those in attendance at the event were concerned about the chilling effect SB202 will have on free speech on college campuses. Professors, threatened with demotions or firings, may face difficult choices in the future.

In addition to opposition to SB202, speakers and attendees were also rallying in support of the Kinsey Institute, a cease fire in Gaza, and free speech in general. Indiana University student Melissa Blundell said, “Kinsey is currently under attack with a proposal coming from IU to sever it from the University, which is disastrous for the Kinsey Institute. I just came to show my support. It leaves it vulnerable to being dissolved entirely, and IU needs to be doing more to protect it. Kinsey is part of IU’s legacy.”

Joe Varga, Indiana University Associate Professor of Labor Studies in the School of Social Work, said, “I’m out here today to oppose the University’s involvement in the Defense Department and funneling research into the Defense Department through Crane Naval Weapons Station where we send $100 million in research every year and then they dictate who we hire as faculty and it interferes with shared governance and it also makes us complicit in the genocide of Palestinians. So that’s why I’m here today. All the other issues are equally important. I’ve never seen our faculty this fired up about stuff because it is getting ridiculous.”

Despite SB202 passing today, those in attendance remained motivated. The final speaker of the event, IU PhD student Bryce Greene, called on everyone to organize, attend events and meetings, educate themselves on the topics, and stay involved.

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – FEBRUARY 27: Indiana House Passes Controversial SB202 Amidst Campus Protests: Advocates Fear Threat to Academic Freedom and Free Speech in Higher Education (Photo by The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – FEBRUARY 27: Indiana House Passes Controversial SB202 Amidst Campus Protests: Advocates Fear Threat to Academic Freedom and Free Speech in Higher Education (Photo by The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – FEBRUARY 27: Indiana House Passes Controversial SB202 Amidst Campus Protests: Advocates Fear Threat to Academic Freedom and Free Speech in Higher Education (Photo by The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – FEBRUARY 27: Indiana House Passes Controversial SB202 Amidst Campus Protests: Advocates Fear Threat to Academic Freedom and Free Speech in Higher Education (Photo by The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – FEBRUARY 27: Indiana House Passes Controversial SB202 Amidst Campus Protests: Advocates Fear Threat to Academic Freedom and Free Speech in Higher Education (Photo by The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – FEBRUARY 27: Indiana House Passes Controversial SB202 Amidst Campus Protests: Advocates Fear Threat to Academic Freedom and Free Speech in Higher Education (Photo by The Bloomingtonian)

Rate this post

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 2.8 / 5. Vote count: 6

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Bloomingtonian on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!