MINOT, N.D. — Everyone is a fierce advocate for the First Amendment when it comes to their own speech or speech they agree with.
That commitment to free expression tends to falter when it comes to speech we disagree with.
North Dakota's university system is posturing itself for a legal challenge to a new law passed by the Legislature earlier this year prohibiting partnerships with groups that promote abortion. The catalyst for the bill was a long-standing grant arrangement between researchers at North Dakota State University and Planned Parenthood, the nation's most prominent advocate for abortion and, given their campaign activities, a de facto arm of the Democratic Party.
The original bill included funding penalties for state institutions involved in such arrangements, but Gov. Doug Burgum neutered that part of the legislation with a line-item veto, leaving only the prohibition in place.
It has become little more than a rehashing of anti-abortion policy already in state law.
Still, the academics have worked themselves into a lather at what they perceive as an affront to academic freedom, and NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott has requested an opinion from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem on the legality of the bill.
Don't expect the issue to stop there. Whichever way Stenehjem rules (and he may choose not to issue an opinion at all), this matter will likely appear before the courts.
It will be an interesting argument.
How much say can the taxpayers have in the sort of academic pursuits they fund?
A great deal, I would hope, even if you or I might find this particular exercise in oversight to be a bit much.
Since this bill first drew condemnations from the academics earlier this year, I've struggled with the rank hypocrisy on display from higher education. They've postured themselves on the moral high ground when it comes to free expression, and yet their track record, collectively, isn't great.
There are many well-documented instances of right-of-center political activities being curtailed and even outright prohibited, even as left-of-center activists are given free rein. Still, our local higher education officials insist that sort of thing isn't a problem in North Dakota.
Except, it is.
In 2018 Dr. Robert Kibler, chairman of the Department of Foreign Languages, Humanities, and Literature at Minot State University, invited me to take part in a discussion about the importance of the humanities in higher education. I accepted, but Kibler later told me one of his colleagues pulled out of moderating the event because he booked me.
She said she didn't feel safe in a room with me. That the venue, the lovely Northwest Arts Center Gallery on the MSU campus, didn't have enough egress points through which she could flee if I became enraged.
Kibler found a different moderator, and I didn't learn of these objections until after the event.
My counterpart in the discussion, Dr. Dan Conn, a professor of education who has since become a good friend, told me he'd been encouraged by some of his colleagues not to participate because of my involvement.
On the one hand, you could cite this event as a victory over small-mindedness and ideological bias since it happened despite the attempts to derail it. Those who intended found the discussion enlightening, I think, and Dr. Kibler invited me to participate in another panel discussion last year about statues of "old white men."
But there's still the other hand, which is the undeniable reality of left-wing bias in academia.
It permeates these institutions, much as it permeates the news media and the entertainment industry, and it has become so routine that those ensconced in it have a hard time seeing the problem.
Both those for and against Planned Parenthood's involvement in academic research at NDSU claim their positions aren't political, which is nonsense. Planned Parenthood is a highly visible modern participant in one of the most divisive political debates our country has ever seen. In more recent years, the group has turned viciously partisan to boot.
If you can't understand why that group's presence in what is supposedly nonideological, nonpolitical research endeavors can drive angst among right-of-center North Dakotans, it's time to evaluate your own political biases.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.