New bill could ban certain topics from Tennessee college campuses

Published: Apr. 14, 2023 at 7:11 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 15, 2023 at 8:52 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There were some tense moments on the house floor Thursday following the first full day back of the two re-instated lawmakers.

The debate was over HB 1376 also known as the Tennessee Higher Education Freedom of Expression Act would limit what can be taught on Tennessee college campuses.

Professors and students on Tennessee college and university campuses could face penalties for discussing topics that the bill calls divisive.

Just minutes after being sworn back into office Thursday, Representative Justin J. Pearson was once again at odds with the Republican party.

The bill lists 17 different divisive topics not to be discussed such as whether one race or sex is inherently superior or inferior to another race or sex.

It also bans teaching an individual by virtue of the individual’s race or sex is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.

“This sounds like fascism, this sounds like authoritarianism, this doesn’t sound like democracy or freedom and so again this bill is very troubling,” said Representative Justin Jones.

Pearson says the new bill would eliminate discussion of items such as white privilege or unconscious biases.

The bill would create a transparent system to allow students or faculty to report any violations and require education institutions to maintain a list of violators.

“I don’t think it will have that much of an impact,” said Tennessee State University professor Learotha Williams Jr,” If the state comes at me or my beloved university comes at me, and I would have to do it this way versus that way than they are infringing on academic freedom.”

Williams says many of the topics on the banned list are fair game in his class.

“I leave it up to the students to conclude whatever conclusions that they want to draw,” said Williams.

Despite the debate, the bill passed overwhelmingly 68 to 26.

Ragan says the idea of the bill was brought to him by a dean of a college of education and another university, but he wouldn’t reveal publicly who it was.

The bill is headed to Governor Bill Lee’s desk for his signature.

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