House bill would require University to host both sides of arguments

Students thought the bill was unnecessary and didn't allow them to make mature decisions

Rep. Anthony Kern's (R-Glendale) bill that requires documentation of visitors on college campuses passed through committee Monday and aims to balance controversial issues, but it may not educate students the way he hopes. 

HB 2238 would require the Arizona Board of Regents to create a new office regulating and organizing forums and speaker visits at universities, making sure both sides of controversial issues are represented fairly to students and are documented for future legislator and taxpayer use.

The office, proposed to be named the Office of Public Policy Events, would be responsible for organizing and publicizing forums that address issues that are widely debated, invite speakers from within the community and the University, run a calendar of events and publish recordings of each meeting.

The bill would not affect speakers and visitors that clubs invite, rather, just speakers and visitors invited by schools within the University and at University-wide events.

Kern said at a House Education Committee Monday that his "whole goal is to educate students" and collect data on who is visiting college campuses so that stakeholders can know "what our students are being taught."

"If you're only giving (students) one side of a viewpoint, you are not giving them the opportunity to transition to the real world," Kern said. 

Kern also admitted that he and his team "don't know if the notation (of University speakers) will help (them) educate students," like his bill says. Nevertheless, Kern hopes the bill will move forward. 

At the committee hearing, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Stanley Kurtz said that the bill will "encourage critical thinking" and "regularize the process of debate."

Clubs can still invite people of their choosing for member meetings and larger events. Speakers like Joe Arpaio, who spoke to College Republicans United, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who spoke to Young Democrats last semester, and other club-sponsored events would not be subject to regulations from the office. 

Though the speakers would not be subject to regulations, clubs must submit their guest speakers to the Office of Public Policy Events, Kern said. 

During the bill's hearing, opponents of the bill said that it included unfunded mandates and that students have their own opinions and could opt-in or out of University events. Critics also believed that University professors are educated enough to correctly represent partisan issues.

A University spokesperson said they don't comment on pending legislation and that the University looks to the Arizona Board of Regents for non-university legislation. 

Brittney Kaufmann, the vice president of government affairs and community relations for ABOR, said the board was in opposition because the bill creates "unfunded mandates." 

Kaufmann also said there are constitutional concerns with the bill because it would require an office to prioritize certain kinds of speech over others. 

A number of University students are unaware of the proposed legislation but had strong opinions when they read the bill’s abstract. 

"The bill isn’t really fair," Arianna Tillman, a freshman studying public health said. "We’re adults. There’s no reason for there to be an office to micromanage what is and isn’t shown on campus."

While some students are worried that promoting both sides of controversial issues would bring protests to campus, Kern says he is "not worried" because protests are already happening.

"It doesn’t sit right with me," Anthony Sawyer, a freshman studying nursing, said. "(Bringing a speaker from both sides of an issue) is not going to inspire thoughtful dialogue. Colleges are liberal by default, and people are just going to protest whoever they bring."

The bill returned to Kern and his staff with a do pass recommendation. Kern will add an amendment with a fiscal note before it is returned to a committee.


Reach the reporter at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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