Lawmakers across the country are focusing on diversity in higher education, both in the form of “intellectual diversity” on campus and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. In Indiana, a new bill would allow students to rat out professors who fail to promote “intellectual diversity,” while in Kentucky, lawmakers are targeting class teachings that would promote “resentment” of another class of people. Both bills are likely to chill speech on campus.


Indiana’s intellectual diversity in name only

Indiana SB 202 threatens tenure protections and disregards academic freedom at public universities – and it sailed through the state senate this month. Much like an Ohio bill that nearly passed last year, SB 202 is preoccupied with “intellectual diversity” – the phrase appears in the bill 37 times. But the mechanisms it creates will actually threaten the diversity of ideas available on Indiana campuses. 

The bill does this by creating a tipline for students to report professors who fail to adequately promote “intellectual diversity” in their classrooms. Professors reported on the tipline could then face a hearing with the board of trustees, who could then deny them tenure or promotion. Importantly, tenure would not save professors either: The board of trustees would also have to conduct a post-tenure review process every five years to assess if the faculty member has made adequate attempts to foster “intellectual diversity” in their classrooms. If they haven’t, by metrics legislators have so far failed to specify, professors may be fired by the trustees without any input by other faculty. 

Intellectual diversity on campus is an undeniably good thing. But because defining it is necessarily subjective, it’s best adopted as a guideline, not enforced by the power of the state. Mandating that each professor foster it in nonspecific ways is a recipe for self-censorship and politically motivated reporting – and it is a direct violation of academic freedom, which allows professors broad latitude to set their own syllabi and run their own classrooms. 

To understand the problem with encouraging students to report their professors for their speech, look no further than Florida, where one professor reported feeling “pressure from students to give them a grade that they want in exchange for not submitting a complaint about me.” This would easily become the reality in Indiana under SB 202.


In Kentucky, no diversity at all

“We aren’t always for diversity,” according to Kentucky state senator John Schickel, who believes it is “being thrown way out of proportion.” His solution to this allegedly disproportionate attention is to support SB 6, a bill prohibiting professors from discussing vague concepts with adult students at the university level. 

SB 6 would prohibit professors in gen ed courses or program requirements from promoting “discriminatory concepts,” a laundry list of vague terms that builds upon the “divisive concepts” common in educational gag orders since 2020. This prohibition would now apply in any course offered for general ed credit or required in any major. The “discriminatory concepts” include anything that promotes “resentment of … a class of people,” a category so broad that it would prohibit instruction that implies disapproval of, for example, litterbugs, animal abusers, or historical enslavers. The bill would also ban the use of state funds for any activity promoting these concepts, which would hamstring the ability of professors and students to go to conferences, subscribe to journals, or advance research partnerships — all based on the DEI programming of external, private institutions. 

In doing so, SB 6 would impinge on academic freedom and undermine the university’s ability to educate students. As University of Kentucky president Eli Capilouto put it, the bill would prevent the university from building “a community where everyone feels as though they belong as we pursue our mission to advance this state in everything that we do.” College presidents comment on legislation only rarely and only when the bill would impact the university in “potentially significant ways,” Capilouto said. “This is one of those moments.”

The bill just passed the state Senate despite opposition from the president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. It heads to the House next, and if it passes there, will likely be vetoed by Governor Andy Beshear before heading back to the legislature for an override vote.


These bills, and more like them, are tracked in PEN America’s Index of Educational Gag Orders.