Two House Bills, HB1218 and HB1231, are sparking protests from higher education institutions across the state of Arkansas.
HB1218 is a bill that would prohibit public schools from offering classes that “isolate certain students based on race, gender, political affiliation or social class,” while HB1231 would prohibit those schools from utilizing the 1619 project.
According to HB1218, if public schools were found to be teaching these classes, the state would be able to pull 10% of their funding. If the bill is passed, it would reward oversight to Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
The primary sponsor of the bills is Rep. Mark Lowery-Republican of Little Rock, and both bills were co-sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert-Republican of Conway.
Rep. Stephen Magie-Democrat of Conway takes issue with the bills. “I think it's up to up to the individual teachers and the individual school boards to design their curriculum around what the US Department of Education says they have to, “ he said, adding that introducing students to varying viewpoints teaches them critical thinking skills.
“The local educator and the local school board should make the decisions of what is appropriate in the education of our students,” Rep. Magie said.
The administration at UCA has also spoken out against the bills. “Among our concerns are how these bills may impact accreditation, freedom of speech, academic freedom, and control of the curriculum,” Amanda Hoelzman, director of media relations, said.
During a Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday, Jan. 28, President Houston Davis signaled his support of the senate’s resolution to oppose the two bills.
In addition to President Davis’s opposition to the bills, the Student Government Association also signaled its disapproval at the meeting by signing a resolution to support academic freedom.
“Joining on their statement is less about going against the bill and more about being for academic freedom,” SGA President Jamaal Locking said in a phone call with the Echo. “That is how we stand as students, supporting our faculty and their right to teach inclusive curriculum in higher education.”
Also during the faculty senate meeting, Jeremy Gillam, director of governmental affairs and external relations, provided the senate with an update on how the bill is moving within the Legislature.
Gillam said that the bill isn’t picking up steam, explaining “the bill has “functional problems”. Because of the power, it would give the executive branch, in this case, the attorney general’s office, the bill is viewed as unconstitutional.
Educators across the state are also concerned about the implications of the bills and view it as an overstep into their discipline.
“I disagree with the censoring of open discussion and the free flow of ideas both in and out of the classroom,” David Welky a professor of history at UCA, said. “ Any good American history class grapples with complex questions of race, ethnicity, gender, class, culture, and other issues this country has wrestled with for more than two hundred years.”
Welky added that “students of history quickly learn that there is no single, correct interpretation of past events, just as there is no one ‘right’ way to interpret current events.”
“Students should not feel like they must conform to an outside party’s belief system, whether that party is a professor or a state legislator,” Welky said.