Minnesota State professors are asking lawmakers to enshrine their academic freedoms in state law, saying they're concerned about restrictions passing in other parts of the country.

"Academic freedom really is about the ability to teach in your discipline area, so that students know when they're walking in, you're not limited by the political climate of the moment," said Jenna Chernega, president of the Inter Faculty Organization, which represents professors at the seven universities in the Minnesota State system.

The request comes at a tenuous time for professors, whose working conditions vary greatly across the nation. The American Association of University Professors said political interference in higher education "has reached an alarming level," with at least 99 bills being introduced in more than 30 state legislatures over the past four years. New laws passed in Republican-controlled states, such as Florida and Texas, curtailed the teaching of topics like race and gender or banned diversity, equity and inclusion offices.

The restrictions are passing at a time when American views on higher education appear to be changing and growing more partisan. A Gallup poll conducted last year found the percentage of Americans expressing confidence in the sector had declined, with Republicans reporting larger drops than Democrats.

A bill that passed the DFL-led Senate Monday states that Minnesota State faculty would be free to teach in their areas of expertise "without interference from political figures, boards of trustees, donors, or other entities." It would also say that faculty are "entitled to full freedom in research" and prohibit the system from discriminating against them "for engaging in political activities or holding or voicing political views" as long as it "does not interfere with the faculty member's job responsibilities."

Senators are expected to discuss the measures with representatives in the House in the coming weeks, when they meet to negotiate details of a larger higher education policy bill.

The bill would apply only to the Minnesota State system, which serves more than 300,000 students at places including St. Cloud State University and Minnesota State University, Mankato. It doesn't cover the University of Minnesota or private schools, but the issue sometimes flares on those campuses too. Hamline University drew international attention in a debate over teaching Islamic art.

Eric Davis, vice chancellor for human resources, said in a statement that Minnesota State is "committed to full academic freedom of inquiry, teaching, and research."

"Our collective-bargaining agreements with faculty have long affirmed this freedom, and the proposed legislation largely reflects provisions established in our faculty contracts," Davis said.

In hearings earlier this year, some lawmakers questioned whether the protections need to be written into law if they're already covered by union contracts. They noted that laws, too, can be reversed.

"At the very least, if someone tried, if the tide switches at the Legislature and they wanted to try to do something to limit academic freedom, they'd have to repeal this first and that would open up a conversation about why," Chernega said.

On Monday, after debate, senators also added language that prohibits faculty members from requiring students to express specific viewpoints, ensure that lessons aren't for "political, ideological, religious or antireligious indoctrination" and restricts "the introduction of controversial matters without a relationship to the subject being taught."

"Wouldn't it be nice if a student could be in a class and have a view that's the only view in that class, that it's different from the other 20 people," said Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka. He said some students might "think Hamas is amazing" or "think Israel is amazing."

Sen. Aric Putnam, DFL-St. Cloud, who works as a professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University, questioned whether those additions were necessary, saying he hadn't seen any evidence those types of incidents were taking place.

"This amendment is 100 percent unnecessary," said Putnam, who wrote the original bill. "Institutions themselves have these rules. Faculty members themselves are committed to the pursuit of knowledge."