In a statewide survey, some students shared their perceptions of S.D. public universities

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Several lawmakers wondered Monday what might raise participation the next time students are surveyed on intellectual diversity at South Dakota’s six public universities.

The mid-March survey was emailed to 23,563 students. It received 3,554 responses, a rate of 15%. Generally, large majorities of the responses reflected positively or neutrally on the universities.

Nathan Lukkes, general counsel for the state Board of Regents, said the questionnaire went out as students were leaving to finish spring classes at home because the COVID-19 pandemic had emerged.

Among the 30 questions were five on intellectual diversity.

“Certainly timing was huge here,” Lukkes told members of the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee.

He said the regents tried to “thread the needle” between giving students time to get to know the conditions on their campuses and final exams.

Representative Chris Karr, a Sioux Falls Republican, said he likes hearing back from customers. “We are all bombarded by emails,” Karr acknowledged.

Lukkes estimated that completing the survey took probably five to 10 minutes.

Representative Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, suggested tying participation to something students would want such as their final grades. “Maybe that would work,” he said.

Senator Jack Kolbeck, a Sioux Falls Republican, found interesting that only one complaint came back.

Lukkes said he was surprised, given that the six universities have more than 4,000 employees and more than 30,000 students.

The Legislature in 2019 approved a bill sponsored by Representative Sue Peterson, a Sioux Falls Republican, requiring promotion of free speech and intellectual diversity at the six state universities, including an annual report from the regents on efforts by the campuses.

Testimony from the universities’ presidents had helped defeat a House version of Peterson’s bill in a Senate committee, but it was revived a week later and rewritten. That final version won approval from both chambers along generally Republican-Democratic lines.

Monday marked Peterson’s final meeting as GOAC chair.

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