Iowa Board of Regents launches free-speech survey for students, staff


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The Iowa Board of Regents launched a free speech survey in order to gauge how to protect freedom of expression at Iowa’s public universities.

Katie Akin, Iowa Capitol Dispatch

The Iowa Board of Regents launched its first free-speech survey on Tuesday, part of a multi-step plan to protect freedom of expression at the state’s public universities.

The survey asks university staff and students to respond to a set of statements about free speech, ranking them from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” The survey ends on Dec. 1.

Chief Academic Officer Rachel Boon said the Regents worked with university administrators to create the survey statements. 

The Board of Regents plans to conduct the free-speech survey every two years. It differs from the existing campus climate survey, Boon said, because it will focus exclusively on free-speech issues, and the survey data will be consistent across the three universities.

Boon did not know yet what the Regents will do with the survey data once it is completed.

Iowa lawmakers seized on university free-speech issues during the 2021 legislative session, holding several meetings lambasting school administrators for incidents in which a conservative student or group felt their free-speech rights were limited on campus.

In response, the Board of Regents convened a committee on free speech which developed a set of 10 recommendations for universities. Some of the recommendations have already taken effect, like a mandatory syllabus statement that recognizes academic freedom and a website for students to report free speech concerns.

Republican leaders said that free-speech issues on campus may have played into the decision not to increase funding for the Regents universities. They also pointed to lingering COVID-19 aid and declining enrollment as reasons not to increase the budget.

“Regents have had issues on various subjects. But, you know, I believe the Regents are taking some steps in the right direction,” Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, said in an April subcommittee on the budget. “And then next year we can see how the progress is going there too.”