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Regent warns ISU to allow free speech in the teaching of climate science

Nancy Boettger points to ‘non-PC’ research

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette AMES — Before Iowa’s Board of Regents on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for Iowa State University to launch a new bachelor of science in climate science” degree this fall, regent Nancy Boettger warned administrators to keep “freedom of speech” in mind. “Climate change is a very politically charged topic,” said Boettger, chairwoman of the board’s Academic Affairs Committee. “My concern is with freedom of speech. … My main concern is that we go the extra mile to protect freedom of speech or opinions that differ on this politically charged topic.”

Over her years in public service — having served as a Republican state senator from Harlan in western Iowa from 1995 to 2015 — Boettger said she received climate change materials and books she plans to share with ISU in its pursuit to teach on climate change. The materials, she said, aren’t “dog-eared.”

“I haven’t studied them a lot,” she said. “But it’s all research … with probably the non-PC opinions. Opinions, but it’s documented research.”

In response, ISU Associate Provost for Academic Programs Ann Marie VanDerZanden said, “That certainly is something that we have talked about and considered. We understand the political nature that some people do view climate change through.”

The board eventually unanimously approved the new major.


Faculty from Iowa State’s Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences proposed the new undergraduate major to meet growing climate changerelated challenges — including financial costs associated with extreme events like flooding, droughts, heat waves and crop failures.

“The need to provide a well-trained, adaptable workforce to address these challenges is urgent,” according to ISU’s proposal for the new major. “Climate change is currently impacting global environmental and ecological systems, agricultural systems and food security, human health, water availability, human migrations and economic systems.

“Furthermore, future climate change is projected to increase and worsen these impacts.”

Students who earn an ISU degree in climate science will gain a solid understanding of “how the climate system works, will be knowledgeable about climate impacts on society and relevant sustainability and mitigation options, and will be competent with data analysis and science communication.”

Iowa State exhibited student demand by highlighting positive feedback about the proposal from several student climate change and environmental groups on campus and by pointing out emerging climate science majors on other campuses such as the University of California Los Angeles and Berkeley and the University of Nebraska. The campus anticipates “good enrollment in this major” — from 25 in the first year to 120 by year five of the program.

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Regent Nancy Boettger

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