Last Updated on December 3, 2023 by Robert C. Hoopes
Utah Governor Urges Colleges and Universities to Maintain Neutrality on Current Events
In a recent news conference with the Utah Board of Higher Education, Governor Spencer Cox called on colleges and universities in the state to refrain from commenting on current events, specifically the Israel-Hamas conflict. Cox emphasized the importance of neutrality and suggested that college presidents interested in expressing their opinions should run for political office instead.
The governor’s comments came as measures were passed requiring public colleges to outline protections for free speech while also maintaining neutrality. This decision was prompted by recent protests at the University of Utah, where a conservative club’s event on the transgender community was disrupted by members of a student group called MECHA.
Cox expressed concern over the growing trend of political statements from institutions of higher education, believing that it hampers open dialogue and debate on campus. He advocated for creating spaces for discussion on college campuses and inviting diverse speakers.
Under the new requirements, public universities in Utah should refrain from taking public positions on political, social, or unsettled issues that do not directly relate to their mission or pedagogical objectives. Cox argued that college presidents have been pressured to release statements on every current issue in the past two decades, which he sees as a mistake that stifles debate.
While some colleges in Utah have issued statements about the Israel-Hamas conflict without taking sides, expressing a general condemnation of violence and a desire for peace, the governor suggests that universities should make fewer statements on controversial topics, erring on the side of neutrality.
When asked about other potentially political events on campus, such as LGBTQ Pride Month or Black History Month, Cox emphasized the importance of less involvement in such issues. Critics argue that universities should speak out on such issues, while others believe it is a difficult balance between protecting free speech and avoiding controversy.
The Utah Board of Higher Education’s measures aim to be proactive in addressing issues of student speech on campuses and preventing conflicts from escalating due to the lack of dialogue spaces. The policies require universities to establish guidelines for student speech and interventions when disruptions occur, while still protecting the freedom to debate and scrutinize all ideas.
Governor Cox and other state leaders encourage student protests but urge them to do so in an appropriate manner and avoid canceling others’ viewpoints. The goal is to foster an environment of open discussion and free expression while maintaining a neutral stance on contentious issues.