Informally known as the “Academic Freedom Act”, HB 2438, proposed by State Rep. Bryan Terry, MD (R-Murfreesboro), seeks to provide students with an avenue to address grievances related to free speech violations in the classroom. Even with the Campus Free Speech Protection Act, co-sponsored by Terry in 2017, students still feel as though their free speech is restricted, fearing that their grades or treatment in the classroom by professors may be impacted if they voice their true opinion. The bill aims to resolve these concerns.
Known as a champion for students, Terry has taken up the issue on behalf of both high school
and college students through previous pieces of legislation and initiatives. In the past, Terry has
sponsored the Right to Try Act for Central Magnet School students and the Racial Profiling Prevention Act on behalf of MTSU students. And when the voting rights of Tennessee college students were being stripped, Terry was the legislator who answered the call. When students shared concerns over repercussions they experienced when voicing their opinion in class or on an assignment Terry stepped up for students.
“One of the main reasons I ran for office is to make a positive difference in our state for the future of my children and their generation. When these issues arise, I look to help them take a stand,” Terry said. “With the cost of college and the other stressors in life, our students shouldn’t have to be on guard and feel intimidated in a classroom about their political beliefs.”
A 2018 survey published on behalf of Yale University’s William F. Buckley, Jr. Program found that 53 percent of students felt intimidated to share their ideas, opinions, or beliefs in class if they were different than those expressed by their professors. Additionally, the survey found that 52 percent of students felt their professors used class time to express their own political or social views not related to course content.
“When I talk to Tennessee students, they echo the same concerns found in the Yale survey. It can be difficult to speak up in class or even find the right words when writing a paper,” Terry said. “But when one has to be concerned about offending their professor and risk getting alower grade, that is an unhealthy learning environment,” explained Terry. “In the end, if a student receives a lower grade based on their expressed beliefs, that is discrimination.”
Though Tennessee enacted the Campus Free Speech Protection Act in 2017, that act did not put forth any specific enforcement in the event that a student faced discrimination in their coursework for expressing a political view. The “Academic Freedom Act” amends current statute to allow students a remedy if they face discrimination for their views in the form of a cause of action against the offending institution.
“Proving discrimination occurred against a student who expressed a political opinion is a high bar to attain. But if the discrimination occurs and negatively impacts a student and their life trajectory, the institution should be held accountable. This bill does just that,” concluded Terry. HB 2438 has been placed on notice in the Higher Education Subcommittee. Rep. Bryan Terry, MD represents District 48 which is the eastern half of Rutherford County. His office can be contacted at 615-741-2180 or Rep.Bryan.Terry@Capitol.Tn.Gov