AFT-NH Testimony on HB 1313 (relative to rights to freedom from discrimination in higher education)

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From Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH To NH House Education Committee

Dear Chairman Ladd and Members of the Committee,

My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers – NH. AFT-NH represents 3,500 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees and higher education staff across New Hampshire.

I am writing in opposition of HB 1313. This bill is unconscionable and antithetical to the nature and purpose of higher education. Despite attempts by the bill’s sponsors and supporters to minimize the scope of the legislation, claiming that it would merely prevent individual faculty members from professing their personal beliefs or presenting theories as fact, the passage of the legislation would be a gross violation of the academic freedom rights of every public college and university professor in New Hampshire.

In Sweezy v. New Hampshire, the Supreme Court established that academic freedom derives from the First Amendment right to free expression. The New Hampshire Supreme Court argued that the right to lecture was not an absolute right and could be abridged if the state had compelling interest. The Supreme Court rejected this thinking absolutely:

The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident. No one should underestimate the vital role in a democracy that is played by those who guide and train our youth. To impose any strait jacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our Nation. No field of education is so thoroughly comprehended by man that new discoveries cannot yet be made. Particularly is that true in the social sciences, where few, if any, principles are accepted as absolutes. Scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise, our civilization will stagnate and die.

Just like the Divisive Concepts law that our union is challenging in court, this bill is so vague that it would put faculty positions at risk just for doing their jobs and engaging students in thought provoking lessons and discussions. The supporters of HB 1313 have offered conflicting and contradictory statements of what it means. This is by intention. The purpose of the law and the obfuscation is to make educators afraid of saying the wrong thing - so that they say nothing.

Post-secondary educational ​institutions exist to promote student creativity in a threat-free environment. Passing such a bill would not only have an adverse impact on the faculty but also hinder future innovations and growth that we anticipate from the younger generation.

I urge you to find this bill Inexpedient to Legislate

Sincerely,

Debrah Howes

President AFT-NH