Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education

November 2022
Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (Public college or university)
Oklahoma City, OK


Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
  • Incident Political Orientation:
    Not Clear
  • Incident Responses:
  • Incident Status:
    No litigation
  • Was Speech Code incident


A new committee in Oklahoma devoted to free speech will soon oversee the state of campus discourse at public institutions of higher education. Signed into law last month, a new statute will establish a committee within the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to monitor the state of free speech on college campuses, respond to complaints and provide recommendations.

The law will go into effect Nov. 1.

Proponents of the law say it will safeguard speech on campus. But detractors say the committee is another foray into the broader culture wars that have seeped into education, arguing that it unfairly implies wrongdoing by colleges and serves as a distraction from real issues.

Outside Oklahoma, the Free Speech Committee has won the backing of advocacy organizations including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which offered lawmakers input on the bill but was not involved in the legislative process.

How the Commission Will Work

Republican representative Chad Caldwell, who authored HB 3543 to establish the Free Speech Committee, said he proposed the legislation not in response to one specific issue but rather out of broad concern about mounting encroachments on free expression on college campuses. He said it not only signals a commitment to free speech but also sends a message to students and employees that they needn’t self-censor when presenting controversial viewpoints.

“A professor shouldn’t be worried about getting fired, or a student shouldn’t have to worry about failing a class or doing poorly on paper, simply because they share a different viewpoint than maybe other faculty and staff, or from the student’s case, if they share a viewpoint that is different than the one that’s held by their professor,” Caldwell said.

Essentially, the Free Speech Committee has four main responsibilities: to review free speech policies, evaluate complaints of censorship, examine the training employed at individual universities to bolster protection of free speech and make recommendations on improving speech policies and training.

Ultimately, the committee will serve in an advisory role and has no punitive powers.

“We wanted to do it in a way that’s not heavy-handed,” Caldwell said. “It’s easy, especially right now, to politicize speech. We didn’t want to do that. We tried to give as much autonomy as we could to our colleges and universities. This is purely advisory. The purpose of this committee is to simply review different free speech policies and make recommendations for improvements.”

The State Board of Regents—which oversees the governing bodies of the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University systems—will appoint members to the committee. Caldwell expects the committee to include representatives from the individual universities or members of the two regent systems, but the bill leaves it up to the state board to decide.

Julie Daniels, a Republican who sponsored the bill in Oklahoma’s State Senate, called the effort “an additional safeguard” for free speech in higher education. She said that free expression on Oklahoma campuses is not “as healthy as many Oklahomans would like to believe,” noting that the committee is a good-faith effort to improve that health.

“Representative Caldwell and I and many of our colleagues truly believe that free speech on campuses is very vulnerable. We want to make sure we have strong safeguards to protect it,” Daniels said.

Daniels expressed concerns that students and employees often self-censor for fear of being canceled or facing other repercussions.

“We are in a situation in our country, where various actions are having a chilling effect,” Daniels said. “And the chilling effect on exercising your free speech rights is, to me, no different than actually violating your free speech rights if you’re intimidated into not expressing your views. Then those who have no respect for the First Amendment rights of their fellow citizens have won.”