Republicans in Wisconsin are attempting to pass a new free speech bill called the Campus Free Speech Act. However, many in the state view the bill as highly controversial.
The Bill requires the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System to adopt a policy that contains the following seven provisions:
1) that the primary function of an institution is the discovery, improvement, transmission, and dissemination of knowledge;
2) that it is not the proper role of an institution to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution;
3) that students and faculty have the freedom to discuss any problem as permitted by the First Amendment and within specified limits;
4) that any person lawfully present on campus may protest or demonstrate, but that protests and demonstrations that interfere with the expressive rights of others are subject to sanction;
5) that campuses are open to invited speakers;
6) that public areas are public forums and open on the same terms to any speaker; and
7) that institutions must remain neutral on public policy controversies.
While the state’s legislative houses appear to universally agree with the importance of free speech on Wisconsin’s public college campuses, disagreements have developed over how the bill seeks to protect the First Amendment rights of the state’s students.
As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, “The legislation also directs the Regents to create a discipline policy … A student found to have violated the policy twice would be subject to a suspension of at least one semester under the bill, or could be expelled.” Some legislatures feel that this is a step too far.
Those sponsoring this bill claim that these stipulations are necessary to protect against what is often known as the “heckler’s veto.” Angry protesters use disruption and violence to shut down speech they disagree with. Protesters shut down speeches at Middlebury College in Vermont, the University of California at Berkeley, and even UW-Madison within this past academic year.
Primarily, pushback against this bill is coming from Democrats and college administrators within the state.
Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, stated, “I disagree strongly that the university needs us to tell them how to handle this. I frankly think it’s an artificial, political controversy — and as long as we perpetuate artificial, political controversies we won’t solve problems.”
UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas also stated that the passage of the Campus Free Speech Act would create a situation in which the “campus disciplinary committees would not have the power to impose appropriate punishments.”
Colorado has already passed a similar bill. Other states, such as Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia, are also looking into passing similar measures.
TCC will be sure to follow this story as it progresses.