Faculty and staff from colleges and universities across the state participated in a free speech training event held last Thursday at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Hosted by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s Free Speech Committee, the event included remarks from Andy Lester, attorney and partner, Spencer Fane LLP, and state regent emeritus and State Regent Jeffrey W. Hickman. The keynote address was provided by Joseph Thai, presidential professor, University of Oklahoma College of Law, and a free speech panel discussion featured Lester; Brandee R. Hancock, chief legal officer, Oklahoma State University; and Mackenzie Wilfong, vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, Tulsa Community College.

“A just society protects the God-given right to free speech, and I’m proud of the State Regents for their commitment to the same,” said Governor Kevin Stitt. “Oklahoma’s colleges and universities can’t be Top Ten unless speech is protected. Because of the Regents’ Free Speech Committee, higher ed faculty and staff have never been more prepared to uphold Oklahoma students’ right to free speech.”

The State Regents’ Oklahoma Free Speech Committee was formed following passage of House Bill 3543, authored by Rep. Chad Caldwell, which was signed into law during the 2022 regular legislative session. The committee’s statutorily defined duties include reviewing state system institutions’ free speech policies; reviewing complaints of free speech violations; examining free speech training employed at individual institutions; and developing or identifying free speech training required every two years for college deans, department heads, and campus personnel responsible for creating free speech policies or handling free speech complaints.

“The right to free speech is a building block to a quality education,” said Caldwell. “I appreciate the State Regents’ commitment to ensuring that right across our colleges and universities. I look forward to continuing our work to enhance the protection of that right for all students and faculty.”

The following individuals serve on the State Regents’ Free Speech Committee:

  • Andy Lester, attorney/partner, Spencer Fane LLP (committee chair)
  • Chad Caldwell, Oklahoma House of Representatives, District 40
  • Valerie Couch, Professor/Dean Emeritus, Oklahoma City University School of Law
  • Kay Floyd, Oklahoma State Senate, District 45
  • Dr. Raul Font, Dissertation Chair, Southern Nazarene University
  • Dr. Rick Hall, Vice President of Student Affairs, Oklahoma City University (retired)
  • Mariana Pitts, attorney, Stump & Associates
  • Hayley Jones, Associate General Counsel, Oklahoma City Public Schools
  • Jeffrey W. Hickman, State Regent

“Higher education Chancellor Allison Garrett and the State Regents have made freedom of expression a core commitment of the state system of higher education,” said Lester. “Based on the excellent participation of our colleges and universities in the inaugural free speech training program, I am hopeful Oklahoma will be a model for the rest of the country in protecting expressive freedom on our campuses.”