Amendments to Bill SB 2247

Kira Symington, Reporter

Dear Readers, as you may know, I recently did a piece on “The Rising Threat of Bill SB 2247.” In the interview I conducted, the philosophical implications of the bill and its cultural context were discussed in detail, but things have now changed.  

The bill has been through a series of changes. Each change leads it a little further away from the implications of its original proposal. Small changes have been made such as the replacement of the word “divisive concept” with “specified concept,” whatever that may imply. Larger and more important changes have been made with the switch from a focus on restricting teaching and training to restricting “noncredit earning,” and more changes may be on the horizon. So, the bill’s ideological power has waned and weakened into a less potent version of itself. Things have changed, have they not? 

Again, we must consider the implications of its original proposal and the context in which it was proposed. The first thing we must consider is the fact of its initial aim which was to promote “intellectual diversity” and oppose the training and teaching of “divisive concepts.” Although this aim may have been dulled by revision, it nonetheless remains the goal and hope of those who proposed it. 

But why should we object to this goal? Intellectual diversity as defined in this context, although it sounds nice, has the potential to undermine structures of knowledge. By its refusal to admit to one idea’s superiority over another’s, it places most thought on the same level, potentially elevating baseless conspicuous theories to the level established systems of thought. Secondly, restricting “divisive concepts” such as the idea that America may not be a meritocracy or may be founded on racist or sexist beliefs devalues intellectual history and theories. It, in effect, would diminish the free discussion in universities. As The American Association of Colleges and Universities put it in their public statement on June 16, 2021, “Suppressing or watering down discussion of “divisive concepts” in educational institutions deprives students of opportunities to discuss and foster solutions to social division and injustice. Legislation cannot erase “concepts” or history; it can, however, diminish educators’ ability to help students address facts in an honest and open environment capable of nourishing intellectual exploration.” 

These legislators’ promotion of this harmful rhetoric is not a localized phenomenon by any means. In fact, this bill proposed here in North Dakota may just be a ripple of a much larger movement of anti-intellectualism and increasing hostility towards university education. Placing the bill in its context allows us to see its connections to similar bills across the country from Tennesse to Florida. PEN America has been tracking the increase in the spread of such educational gag order bills. They found in the year 2022, these bills had not only increased in number but in force and focus with both harsher fines and targets from teaching about race to LGBTQ+ identities. And although it seems we have missed the full force of this ideological storm in North Dakota, the fact remains that, as long as it is brewing across our country, we never know when it will show up at our doors again.  


Kira Symington is a Dakota Student General Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected].