Proposed Texas bill challenges waves of legislation against academic expression

Sarah Brager, General News Reporter

A proposed bill would require public universities in Texas to protect academic freedom and ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion for students and faculty. 

State Rep. John H. Bucy III, D-Austin, who filed H.B. 3471 on March 3, said he wanted to counter bills that currently pose a threat to critical thinking in higher education, such as S.B. 16, 17 and 18. Bucy said his bill would protect expression of all ideas in the classroom, rather than creating a table of exclusivity. 

“There’s a culture war about critical thinking and embracing other ideas, and I think it comes from people who are scared of change,” Bucy said. “Ultimately, they’re on the losing side. You’re not going to stop change … change is going to be good for the state.” 

According to the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors, S.B. 16, 17 and 18 could restrict curriculum content, ban DEI in higher education and revoke the granting of tenure. Brian Evans, vice president of Texas AAUP, said academic freedom refers to freedom from censorship by the institution or government, and it’s essential for the creation of new knowledge. 

“In the classroom, the reason we have that freedom as professors and also teachers and other scholars is so we can have these free ranging discussions to cultivate critical thinking skills,” Evans said. “This is something that will be useful for one’s lifetime.” 

Evans said restricting DEI would make it more difficult for public universities to help all students adapt and thrive. Additionally, Evans said clarifying protections for academic freedom and DEI would make students better critical thinkers and effective workers in the future, and failing to do so could make UT and other Texas universities less desirable. 

A.J. Walker, member of Texas Students for DEI, said she expects the number of students of color attending UT to drop if DEI programs aren’t protected. When campuses lose diversity, Walker said, they lose one of the main benefits of attending college: learning from people with different perspectives. 

“It’s going to make it a bubble … if you’re saying that we don’t recognize people with diversity, it’s going to be a very white, male campus, and that’s probably what some of these lawmakers want,” said Walker, a media studies graduate student. “History has shown that progress only happens when you go outside your comfort zone.” 

H.B. 3471 is currently under review by the Higher Education Committee. Bucy said he expects the bill to be fairly partisan and hopes the committee will schedule a public hearing so Texans can be included in the debate over academic freedom. 

“Our message for lawmakers is forget your party,” Walker said. “Your duty is your people.”