SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The BOR has reached out to clarify that while they were given notice ahead of time that a letter was being sent, they not aware of the specific contents.
Just three weeks after South Dakota colleges and universities wrapped up their spring semesters, entering the relative down-period of the summer months, Gov. Kristi Noem addressed a public letter to the South Dakota Board of Regents (BOR) announcing the creation of a “whistleblower hotline” for “students, parents, taxpayers, and anyone who wants to continuable [sic] to transparency and accountability within our institutions…”
This hotline, reached by dialing (605) 773-5916, is a place for anyone to call and complain about issues they have with the institutions. Within the letter announcing the hotline, Noem also made a number of demands of the BOR, for which the hotline is meant to hold them accountable.
These demands include:
- Raising graduation rates to 65% by 2028.
- Take more steps to partner with businesses on apprenticeship programs and offer the lowest possible credit rates.
- Remove all references to preferred pronouns in all school materials and any enforcement of such.
- Remove any policy or procedure that prohibits students from exercising their right to free speech.
- Prohibit drag shows from taking place on university campuses.
- Find a way to cut costs to ensure the affordability of college.
- Require a course in American Government and a course in American History as part of the general education graduation requirements.
- Immediately review all funding sources of university centers and all donations to ensure there is no money coming into our educational system from China.
Any person who sees a violation of these orders will be able to call into the ‘whistleblower hotline’ and report the individual responsible — with one small hitch.
Whereas on May 25 those calling the number were directed to leave a message with their name, university and comment, callers as of the morning of May 26 were met with a different message: “Mailbox full.”
By the afternoon of May 26, the voicemail box was again accessible.
KELOLAND News reached out to Noem’s office, requesting an interview to learn more about the philosophy and implementation of the hotline. We have received no response as of the time of writing.
KELOLAND also reached out to the BOR, asking when they were given notice of the new mandate and what form its implementation will take. As it turns out, the BOR received no advanced notice regarding the specific contents of the letter.
In an emailed statement, BOR communications director Shuree Mortenson wrote the following.
“The South Dakota Board of Regents received Governor Noem’s letter as it was released to the public. At this time, we are still reviewing its contents, but we look forward to having a willing partner in higher education.
The letter contained several goals that the Board of Regents has worked on for several years. This letter, along with our internal Strategic Plan and Senate Bill 55 Legislative Taskforce, presents solutions to support the growth of South Dakota’s workforce through our public universities.
As the public university system of South Dakota, our main goal is to prepare the next generation of leaders with the necessary skills to grow our state’s economy. We are fully committed to this mission.
As for the hotline, that is being fully managed by the governor’s office.”Shuree Mortenson
Despite the statement from the BOR that they did not know in advance about the letter and are not managing the hotline, callers may be led to believe otherwise.
Before the hotline reached its voicemail capacity, callers were met with this message:
“Thank you for calling the South Dakota Board of Regents whistleblower hotline.”
Without word from the governor’s office, it is currently unclear how this hotline will be managed. At present, it does not appear to have the capacity to receive the calls. It is also not known who will be listening to and recording the messages.
Beyond this question, it is also not known what type of enforcement will be taken as a result of whatever calls are received, how the complaints will be vetted or how any allegations made will be verified.
Will additional staff be hired for the task of listening to, recording, vetting and investigating what could wind up being thousands of reports?
If so, where will the money come from? In January, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations approved a budget proposal of $2,789,385 for the Governor’s Office in FY 2024, which will begin July 1, 2023.
Within the governor’s recommended budget for FY 2024, $2,185,269 are earmarked for ‘personal services’ — of which employee salaries are included — for a staffing level of 21.5 full-time-equivalent employees.
In 2022, it was reported by NPR that a similar tip line championed by Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin — meant to allow parents of public school children to report “inherently divisive practices” — was quietly shut down. In that case, Youngkin was forced by a court to turn over emails received by the tip line, despite his attempt to claim them as ‘private communication’ between the public and his office.
In the public letter to the BOR, Noem decried the state of America’s higher education, writing that states have allowed “liberal ideologies to poison their universities and colleges,” and complains that “students have been taught the importance of diversity and equity.”
Noem’s letter states that the governor’s office will “use the information we learn to guide policy decisions moving forward.” How they plan to do this remains to be seen.