Published March 28, 2023

House Passes Ban on Penalization Based on ‘Divisive Concepts’ 

Written by
Lydia Hoverson
| The Dakotan
Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Dis. 12, Jamestown, stands in favor of a bill that prohibits universities from penalizing students for supporting or opposing divisive concepts. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)
Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Dis. 12, Jamestown, stands in favor of a bill that prohibits universities from penalizing students for supporting or opposing divisive concepts. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)

Public University Curriculum 

BISMARCK – The North Dakota State House passed a bill Monday to prohibit public universities from penalizing someone based on 'divisive concepts’ such as the idea that one race is privileged over another. 

Senate Bill 2247 would prohibit state universities from conducting mandatory noncredit earning training that includes specified concepts, or penalizing a student or faculty member who does not support or oppose specified concepts, also known as divisive concepts which are defined in the bill as the teaching that one race or sex is inherently privileged over another, and the teaching that the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist. The bill would also require universities to conduct biennial surveys determining students’ and employees' comfort level in speaking freely on campus. The House Education committee gave the bill a Do Not Pass recommendation by a vote of seven to six. 

Rep. Eric Murphy, R-Dis. 43, Grand Forks, said some testimony in opposition pointed to article VIII section 6.6b of the North Dakota Constitution, which gives the state board of higher education the power to determine courses at state universities. Other testimony in opposition said the bill is redundant with current state law and some of the prohibitions are vague. 

“Another individual noted how these prohibitions in SB2247 would limit the preparations of students to face the diverse world that they will encounter, and impinged on the educational experience that is normally provided in an institution of higher education,” said Murphy. 

Murphy said the University of North Dakota indicated a cost of $30,000 to $100,000 to conduct each survey required in SB2247, and the House Education committee amended the bill to give it a one-million-dollar appropriation. 

“The bill definitely needs more clarity,” said Rep. Jayme Davis, D-Dis. 9A, Rolette. “Coming from someone who deals with cases with most of these definitions on a daily basis, it isn’t surprising that they are in this bill. This bill proves the privilege that most have in this state. There are many others that do not, and this bill silences our reality, which is hurtful. Of all places in this great nation, educational institutions should have the academic freedom to provide quality education that prepares our next generation of scholars to create cutting edge knowledge and understanding, no matter how difficult these discussions may be.” 

Rep. Matt Heilman, R-Dis. 7, Bismarck, said he is a recent graduate from one of North Dakota’s universities. 

“This bill is needed,” said Heilman. “The issues addressed in the bill are happening all over the state. In my experience, and people I know at different universities throughout the state, they’ve had professors telling them that white people should feel guilty about past treatment of slaves or Native Americans in our state history, something we had nothing to do with.” 

Rep. Dori Hauck, R-Dis, 36, Hebron, said the bill is not unconstitutional as it does not tell professors what they can and cannot teach, but rather that they cannot discriminate. 

“No one is being silenced,” said Hauck. “Page four, lines 4-21 specifically state faculty members cannot be restricted from teaching, researching, or writing publications about the specified concepts.” 

“I’m offended,” said Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Dis. 12, Jamestown. “My wife is a woman of color. Our children are children of color. All Americans are created equal, regardless of color, regardless of sex, and we are endowed that by our Creator, and these divisive concepts undermine it.” 

SB2247 passed by a vote of 51 to 40 and if both chambers agree on the amendments the bill will be sent to the governor’s desk for consideration. 

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