A threat to free speech and teaching reality: Indiana opposes SB202

Eric Holcomb still has time to decide the fate of Senate Bill 202, a law that would target professors who teach about the history of racism as a tool that further divides society. SB202 threatens not only the livelihoods of faculty with tenure status, but freedom of speech and the freedom to speak the truth, as professors could be fired simply for teaching the real history of slavery. Although Holcomb declined to meet with a group of civil rights leaders, the community is still organizing against this discriminatory bill that would limit the viewpoints on college and universities throughout Indiana. Faculty from several universities have passed resolutions opposing the bill. Even the right-wing Foundation for Freedom of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) opposes the Senate bill.

SB202 furthers a racist agenda and legitimizes a racist work environment for any faculty who teach about the reality of the U.S.’s unequivocal long history of racism that has yet to be overcome. If a student does not like the professor’s correct position on the history of the formation of this country, then the student can challenge the professor’s lesson plan. That challenge kick-starts a process that ultimately ends with the termination of the professor’s employment. University faculty statewide, the NAACP, and Indianapolis concerned clergy are sounding the alarm on this threat to intellectual freedom. They have organized petitions against the bill and are urging the people to call Governor Holcomb’s office to pressure him not to sign the bill into law. If signed, the group may escalate with a lawsuit.

Since its introduction, organizations and individuals have amassed signatures against SB202.

This bill only goes one way: One white student with internalized racist views will now have power over how Africana studies courses and other courses that can help white students overcome their racist views will be taught. Now, a student has the power to fire their Black professors they do not personally agree with. It is apparent that Black students will not have the same application of the law to fire White professors who say racist remarks in class or hold bigoted views. It ushers in an era where teachers can be fired for teaching slavery was wrong.

Bills like SB202 are not new. This bill is modeled off of similar bills in Florida and Texas that are prompting many professors to move out of those states or leave academia altogether. If SB202 is signed into law, it could have far-reaching consequences for the education system in Indiana. It is important for the voices of educators, students, and community members to speak out against this bill in order to protect the integrity of academic freedom and the right to teach the truth about our history.

Indiana University is already finding reason to suspend professors for assisting their students in bringing in a pro-Palestine speaker to campus to speak on the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people. The University suspended the professor for entering the incorrect code in reserving the space for the students to bring in the speaker, an obvious sign of retaliation on a progressive perspective against war and genocide. The U.S. war machine continues to manufacture consent around the genocide in Palestine and funnels more and more of its resources into police departments in order to crush any dissent that may hinder the flow of capital to fund either the wars in Ukraine and Palestine or the violent repression enacted by police here. The connections between higher education and who can participate in the production of knowledge will be further limited and constrained to those who do not challenge the status quo of society as it stands. 

Only a united community can apply the pressure needed to secure the veto the people need from Holcomb. More importantly, even if Holcomb doesn’t veto the bill, we must not stop fighting!