PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state Board of Regents adopted a statement Thursday telling South Dakota’s public universities they shall reject “that any individual person is responsible for actions taken by other people” and reject “any suggestion that one group of people is inherently superior or inferior to another group, or is inherently oppressive or immoral.”
The board also set an aggressive schedule for an “opportunity center” to be opened by January 1, 2022, at each of the campuses to “realign and focus campus resources to effectively assess and address the individual needs of all students.”
The board approved the two-page document with Joan Wink of Howes abstaining.
Wink acknowledged to the board she had been a dissenting voice in some discussions. “We’ve done our best to understand each other,” she said. Wink said she believed in equity and inclusion and recognized that the board needs to do what’s best for the six universities.
The action was partially in response to a May 24 letter from Governor Kristi Noem to each regent asking them “before national trends threaten to overtake our state” to join her “to preserve honest, patriotic education throughout South Dakota — education that cultivates in our next generation both a profound love of our country and a realistic picture of its virtues and challenges.”
The governor appointed former chief of staff Tony Venhuizen as one of three new regents this spring. He cast the statement Thursday in the context of a May 28 speech by U.S. President Joe Biden.
“This is a complicated set of issues,” Venhuizen told the board. He said the governor, legislators, taxpayers and students hear about the controversy over what he called critical race theory. “What we’re doing today is not banning a label,” he said and called the regents’ response “a positive statement.”
Venhuizen, a lawyer who’s presented at South Dakota history conferences and writes a blog about South Dakota governors, said education helped win the Cold War against the Soviet Union. He said the new challenge is China. He is married to a daughter of the previous governor, Dennis Daugaard, and was chief of staff in Daugaard’s second term.
Venhuizen read an excerpt from the Biden speech setting out the difference between democracy and autocracy. Venhuizen said students at universities in China wouldn’t learn about the negative things China is doing to its peoples. He said the fight between the U.S. and China will be decided in the next 10 to 15 years.
Noem, a Republican, campaigned for the re-election of then-U.S. President Donald Trump and has a lawsuit going against the Biden administration for refusing to let her host another fireworks celebration this year at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. She hosted President Trump there last year.
Noem recently issued an executive order banning the state Department of Education from seeking any federal grants in history or civics until after the 2022 legislative session.
A news release issued by the regents afterward noted: “The board’s statement frames its position around four central tenants: (1) offering opportunity for all students; (2) proudly supporting the United States of America; (3) safeguarding the rich tradition of American universities; and (4) offering curriculum based upon widely held and accepted knowledge and thought.”
Nathan Lukkes, the regents’ legal counsel, said the campuses would report at the October 6-7 meeting on their progress on the various points in the Thursday statement and the regents would consider any related possible policy changes.
Noem, who is white, has criticized the 1619 Project by the New York Times that looked at the effects of slavery of black people in the United States. She noted that one of the advocates for critical race theory was a guest Thursday on the “In the Moment” midday show on South Dakota Public Radio.
Noem tweeted, “Ibram Kendi, a ringleader of Critical Race Theory, went on SDPB today to criticize my efforts to prioritize patriotic civics and history. Kendi, a Marxist, believes ‘capitalism is essentially racist’ and wants the government to police all speech deemed insufficiently anti-racist.”
Her office later issued this statement:
“I am grateful the Board of Regents is taking steps to address this divisive subject and limit its application in our university classrooms. Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project, and the works of Ibram Kendi divide students, distort their understanding of history, and seek to indoctrinate them with anti-patriotic rhetoric. Additionally, I am glad to see that so-called diversity offices, which have unfortunately become less about serving students and more about advancing leftist agendas, are being replaced by Opportunity Centers that will focus on students as individuals, rather than members of groups. The policies put forth by the Board of Regents are a step forward in our quest to resist the harmful effects this ideology can have on students and preserve honest, patriotic education throughout South Dakota. I look forward to continuing the conversation with our legislators and education leaders in the coming months.”