Higher Education Rights Act


As the 2016 Legislative Session is about to begin, I would like to discuss some of the bills I am sponsoring this year.  I have 3 bills that will fall under an umbrella called the Higher Education Rights Act.  Everyday I work on these bills and pore over the articles and court cases that necessitate this legislation, I experience a range of emotions from frustration to fear to sadness.  It is simply unbelievable that these bill are necessary in America.  One might think these would have been settled in the founding period of America and affirmed during some hallmark civil rights era. But this is 2016, and the First Amendment's prohibition on government abridging the freedom of speech is being defied on 50% of our nation's public campuses.

What was once thought to be the bastion of free thought and expression, the college campus has become a punitive oppressor of speech. A recent examination of 4 of Utah's public institutions of higher education revealed 3 of the schools had policies that "clearly" and "substantially" restricted constitutionally protected speech.  In the past year, one of these schools, Dixie College, modified its policies as a result of a settlement agreement.  

1.  The first bill deals with Peer on Peer Harassment on our public campuses of higher education.  This bill will reaffirm and clarify the standards which the Supreme Court has designated for determining what is free speech versus what is punishable speech.   

2. The next one reaffirms that the public college campus is a Free Speech Zone.  Currently, many campuses limit speech to unconstitutionally restrictive areas.  This bill relies on court definitions of the limits under which a school can impose reasonable restrictions on time, place and manner of speech.  All else is free.

3. The third has to do with Academic Freedom of Speech, or when the professor is free to express him/herself versus when that speech may be actionable by the institution. 

These bills are still in draft and exact titles may change, but this is the substance of the bills.  The next two bills may also be filed under the Higher Education Rights Act or under another appropriate section of the Utah Code.

4. HB 337.  This one doesn't have to do with the 1st Amendment, rather the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments. Sexual assault is a serious crime.  It is often difficult to prove, leaving some crimes unpunished and victims without justice.  It can carry shame and guilt, which can lead to under-reporting of a crime.  It can do tremendous damage and leave lifelong scars.  But while the crime of sexual assault is extremely serious, we are learning that students across the country are being deprived of their right to due process of law and denied their right to counsel when accused of sexual assault on college campuses.  Justice can only be served when both parties are afforded due process.  This bill asserts the parties' Right to Active Counsel when there is an accusation of a sexual assault or other serious non-academic matter.  Read more.

5.  Finally, I am sponsoring another bill that impacts higher education.  This is called the Gainful Employment bill. This requires a public institution of higher education to disclose to students the average cost of a particular degree, the average student loan burden accrued, and the likelihood of attaining gainful employment in that degree field upon completion.  

We all know higher education costs are out of control and our nation's collective student loan debt is predicted to be the next economic bubble to burst.  Since Utah's taxpayers foot 52% of the tuition bill and a myriad of other costs, it is only fair that the students, parents and taxpayers know exactly what return everyone gets for their investment in a transparent and accountable manner.  Career colleges are already required to do this.  The bill makes the 2 and 4-year public colleges and universities do the same. 


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