Area colleges prepare to address Gov. Greg Abbott’s call to review free speech policies

Board of Regent chairs will have 90 days from the order’s filing to address the request

FILE - (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Nearly a week after Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order aimed at addressing an increase in antisemitism on college campuses, most area institutions say they are taking steps to address the request.

“Many Texas colleges and universities also acted quickly to condemn antisemitism, but some radical organizations on our campuses engaged in acts that have no place in Texas,” Abbott said in a press release.

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Abbott’s order will require all higher education institutions in the state to review their existing free speech policies and establish what the governor calls “appropriate punishment for antisemitic rhetoric.”

The governor’s action comes as pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrations have occurred on college campuses across the state and in San Antonio in the months following the Israel-Hamas war.

Student newspapers at the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M-San Antonio reported on the walkouts, with some asking their universities to issue calls for ceasefires to the ongoing crisis.

In his Executive Order, the governor singled out two groups: the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

SJP, listed as a registered student organization at UTSA, is pinned on a joint statement from Texas Students for Justice in Palestine, which says, in part, “We see the Executive Order for what it is—a masked, targeted attack to slow the student movement for liberation across the nation’s college campuses.”

Board of Regent chairs will have 90 days from the order’s filing to address the request before being asked to submit a report to the governor’s office. Their report must include documentation verifying revisions made to existing free speech policies and evidence they are being enforced.

Also, per the order, institutions must include the definition of antisemitism — as stated in Section 448.001 of the Texas Government Code — to “guide university personnel and students on what constitutes antisemitic speech.”

KSAT attempted to reach several area colleges and universities, asking them to address their policies and whether changes could be expected.

Jayme Blaschke, director of media relations at Texas State, emailed the following statement:

“Texas State University is reviewing the Governor’s executive order and will take the necessary steps to ensure compliance in a timely manner.”

Kristi Wyatt, the associate vice chancellor of communications and engagement, said:

“The Alamo Colleges District is reviewing the Governor’s Executive Order to assess its impact on our organization as well as clarity on implementation. The district, including our five colleges, remain dedicated to providing campus environments that are welcoming and safe for all individuals. We value diverse opinions and robust debate, but that expression must be conducted respectfully and in accordance with relevant laws, policies, and procedures including our student code of conduct.”

Sam Boykin, a senior communications manager at A&M-San Antonio, said in an email:

“As a public university, A&M-San Antonio is bound to follow Texas law. We don’t anticipate making any policy changes. The University does not have any language specific to ‘antisemitic rhetoric.’”

Joe Izbrand, UTSA’s chief communications officer, said in an email:

“UTSA is committed to fostering free speech and constructive discourse on campus where students, faculty and staff can share differing ideas and points of view in a safe environment. We do not tolerate hateful acts against any group or individual. We fully intend to comply with the governor’s executive order regarding anti-Semitism on college campuses.”

Abbott’s full executive order can be read below.

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About the Author

Mason Hickok is a digital journalist at KSAT. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a communication degree and a minor in film studies. He also spent two years working at The Paisano, the independent student newspaper at UTSA. Outside of the newsroom, he enjoys the outdoors, reading and watching movies.

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