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New task force to tackle perceptions of ideological bias on campus

The exploration of controversial ideas and learning how to thoughtfully consider divergent viewpoints is an essential part of the college experience. But what happens when students, faculty and staff don’t feel comfortable expressing their viewpoints?

A new task force appointed by University of Utah President Taylor Randall has been asked to review this question and make recommendations that “strengthen our campus climate so that all voices and perspectives are welcomed and respected.”

The Viewpoint Representation and Expression Task Force includes faculty, student, staff and trustee representatives, and has been asked to report back on its findings in nine months. Jason Perry, the U’s vice president for government relations and director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, will chair the team.

In calling the group together, Randall cited the writings of former U President David P. Gardner, who quoted the first chancellor of UC Berkeley, Clark Kerr:

“The university is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas. Thus, it permits the freest expression of views before students, trusting to their good sense in passing judgment on these views. Only in this way can it best serve American democracy.”

The team is charged with “evaluating and assessing our campus climate related to the acceptance and diversity of a broad range of ideological viewpoints.” For example, the group may consider policies governing student speech that infringe on other students’ speech. They may also review the faculty code, which discourages instructors from using time in their classrooms to express their views on topics unrelated to the course subject matter.

The task force will issue a final report in 18 months. Randall has asked that the team’s final report include:

  • Results, findings and conclusions about the current campus climate based on survey research and focus groups with students, faculty and staff
  • A review and evaluation of policies and practices related to viewpoint diversity, with particular attention to the Code of Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, the Student Rights and Responsibilities policy and the Ethical Standards and Code of Conduct for staff. This includes ensuring current policies are being followed and making recommendations for updating or revising policies and practices.
  • Recommendations on future research the university should undertake on this issue
  • Recommendations on a set of speakers, dialogues, forums and debates that model best behavior and assistance on implementing these

“In 2024, we must expand on President Gardner’s vision and ensure that our campus welcomes and respects the broad range of voices and perspectives of our students, as well as our faculty, staff and the communities we serve,” Randall wrote to the new committee members. “It is in this spirit that I ask you to take on the important task of evaluating and assessing our campus climate related to respect and acceptance of varying ideological viewpoints.”

The group includes:

  • Jason Perry, Chair, Vice President for Government Relations and director of The Hinckley Institute
  • Michele Ballantyne, Associate General Counsel, Office of General Counsel
  • Paul Cassell, Professor of Law
  • Maria Garciaz, Board of Trustees
  • Harriet Hopf, Professor of Anesthesiology, incoming Academic Senate President (2024-2025)
  • Jason Ramirez, Dean of Students
  • Hollis Robbins, Dean, College of Humanities
  • Jared Rutter, Professor of Biochemistry
  • Bassam Salem, Board of Trustees
  • Mary Ann Villarreal, Vice President for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Jeff Herring, Chief Human Resources Officer
  • Marie Wintriss, President, Staff Council (2024-2025)
  • Undergraduate student representative
  • Graduate student representative

A copy of the full letter is available here.