The Texas Senate approved a bill on April 12 that would prohibit colleges and universities from compelling or forcing students to adopt certain political beliefs.

Senate Bill 16, by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would ban professors from “compelling or attempting to compel” students to adopt the belief that any race, ethnicity, sex, religion or sociopolitical ideology is superior. Colleges and universities could fire a professor or revoke their tenure for doing so.

Hughes said the bill would ensure higher education institutions respect intellectual diversity, including varying political opinions, while preventing indoctrination.

The context

During a special legislative session in 2021, Texas lawmakers approved SB 3, which was also written by Hughes. The bill prohibits K-12 schools from teaching students about critical race theory.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, critical race theory, or CRT, is a group of concepts “used for examining the relationship between race and the laws and legal institutions of a country.” Critical race theory is widely considered to be an academic concept based on the idea that race is a social construct and racism is ingrained in many American systems.

CRT is typically taught in higher education, particularly law schools.

Hughes’ legislation limited what teachers can discuss in the classroom and prohibits schools from requiring students to work with organizations involved in advocacy, activism and lobbying for a grade or extra credit.

According to the bill text, teachers should not discuss “a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs” with their students. K-12 schools are also not allowed to teach students that any race or sex is superior to others; that people should be discriminated against based on their race or sex; or that one race or sex should be held responsible for the past actions of people of the same race or sex.

The bill bans teaching that “the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States.” Schools also cannot teach students about The 1619 Project, an initiative about the history of slavery by The New York Times.

SB 3 became law in December 2021.

Current legislation

Hughes’ current bill, SB 16, has been deemed the new “CRT bill.” In an April 12 statement, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick thanked Hughes and other Republicans for helping pass the bill.

“This session, there was no question that we would ban the teaching of CRT in Texas universities,” Patrick said. “Liberal professors, determined to indoctrinate our students with their woke brand of revisionist history, have gone too far.”

SB 16 does not explicitly mention critical race theory, but Hughes said it bans the same concepts as his past legislation. He emphasized it does not impact the free discussion of ideas in the classroom.

“What we are not for is when professors attempt to compel a student to adopt a certain belief, require adherence to a professor’s viewpoint [or] to a certain viewpoint. That’s another matter entirely. That’s what this bill is about,” Hughes said.

If professors or other faculty members are fired for teaching about critical race theory or imposing political beliefs on their students, they would be allowed to appeal the decision.

Some Democratic lawmakers spoke against the bill April 12, expressing concerns that it would undermine the freedom of speech in higher education.

“This is censorship masquerading as academic freedom, which is exactly the opposite of what we strive for in our institutions of higher education,” said Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin.

Eckhardt said some of her most impactful professors in college and law school had views she did not agree with.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said the bill would have a “chilling effect on our professors who are just trying to do their job.”

On April 11, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, asked Hughes if he had heard from any Texas students whose professors had compelled them to adopt certain ideas. Hughes did not provide any specific examples of the issue.

Community Impact reached out to multiple universities across Texas on April 12, but they declined to comment or did not respond to questions.

Next steps

The bill was approved by the Texas Senate with a 19-12 vote along party lines. It now heads to the Texas House, where lawmakers can choose to hold a committee hearing on the bill.

SB 16 is one of Patrick’s legislative priorities. The Senate will also consider SB 17, which would ban diversity, equity and inclusion programs, trainings and offices at public colleges and universities. In an analysis of the bill, Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said DEI policies “are polarizing and work against the goal of inclusion.”