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Iowa State Daily

Under half of incoming students completed summer free speech training

Jacob Rice
Design student, Brandt Crocker, sits in front of Parks Library composing preacher Daniel Lee in his handmade viewfinder for a DSN131 drawing assignment. Central Campus, Oct. 2, 2023.

The Iowa Board of Regents introduced a “free speech training module” for students attending the three regent institutions in February 2022. 

Since then, the Iowa State Daily reported the training saw less participation than initially anticipated. 

Wednesday, Iowa State announced completion statistics, reporting 3,200 incoming students completed before arriving on campus. The registrar’s office reported 8,715 new students this fall, meaning 36.7% of incoming students completed the training before the school year started. 

The university also reported 12,372, or 41% of the student body, have completed the training at least once. 

The training, which is also required of employees, was taken by 87% of faculty and staff between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023. 

Michael Dahlstrom, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, said understanding is an important part of the college experience. 

“The First Amendment is important because as a university we are trying to help students understand how to think, and part of that is expressing ideas and listening, et cetera,” Dahlstrom said. 

Julie Roosa, former First Amendment specialist in the Greenlee School of Journalism, told the Daily in a 2022 interview she believes the Board of Regents implemented the training as a political response. 

“There’s a theory that conservative voices are being silenced on university campuses, not just here at Iowa State or in Iowa, but nationwide,” Roosa said. “I think politicians were looking for a way to correct that notion.”

East of the Campanile near central campus a plaque is posted to remind students of free speech rights on campus. (Brittany Huston )

A 2021 state law made free speech training required at Iowa’s public institutions. Since 2020, the board has had a free speech committee. 

Tracy Lucht, associate professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, said the training is important for students. 

“I would say that freedom of speech and expression is fundamental to our democracy and fundamental to a college education and I think it is very important for all of us to recognize that, and to understand how these principles play out in our classrooms and on campus,” Lucht said.

Lucht did say, though, the training may not accomplish what its creators aim for. 

“I am not convinced that this type of training accomplishes what its creators wanted it to accomplish,” Lucht said. “From what I remember from the training it seemed somewhat superficial and covered things that were not at all surprising to those of us in a school of journalism. To that extent, it feels somewhat performative to me, but I would really like to make sure that our administrators, students and faculty support the First Amendment, support freedom of speech, support a free press, because frankly without those things our democracy cannot survive.” 

The training is provided via Canvas to students and is labeled as mandatory, but students face no disciplinary consequences if it is not completed. 

First year students were instructed to complete the training between onsite orientation during the summer and when they arrived on campus to start the fall semester. 

Rob Schweers, senior manager of communications for the Senior Vice President and Provost, said with support from the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, students receive reminders to complete the training during times where students may be less busy: Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, spring break and the end of spring semester.

Staff are reminded annually to complete the training through WorkDay. 

According to the University of Iowa, 97% of faculty and staff at the university have completed the training and 89% of incoming students have completed the training as of Sept. 27. By the end of the semester the university anticipates up to 98% completion by incoming students. 

The University of Iowa reported 59% of continuing students have completed the course at least once. 

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    Susie | Oct 3, 2023 at 7:13 pm

    Very important to be aware of our First Amendment-protected constitutional rights. “The training, which is also required of employees, was taken by 87% of faculty and staff between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023.” I hope a 1st Amendment Auditor doesn’t show up on the public university land, exercise their rights, and run into one of the 13% of staff who did not complete the training, reminding them of our constitutional rights ;).