Republican state lawmakers are proposing a bill they say will help protect free speech rights on University of Wisconsin campuses.
The legislation, so-sponsored by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), directs the UW System to implement policies that encourage free speech from both sides of the political aisle. “The goal is to have the maximum amount of free speech that we possibly can, without regard to one side of the political equation or the other, so that the students – who are paying for the opportunity – get to hear from all viewpoints and get to make up their own mind,” Vos said.
The bill would also have campuses discipline students who disrupt speeches – including facing expulsion – and require the UW to remain neutral on political issues. It comes in response to several high-profile incidents across the country where conservative speakers have had campus events cancelled, following an outpouring of opposition from students. “We should allow them the opportunity to be heard, questioned, debated at the appropriate time…but not just having somebody stand up and try to shout them down or block access to the event,” Vos argued.
The liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now blasted the proposal, saying it would create “mandatory safe spaces” that help protect racist and sexist speech on campus. “Republicans want to make our campuses safe spaces for Republicans to be free of criticism and subject students to legal sanctions if they speak out,” said OWN executive director Scot Ross.
In a statement, UW System President Ray Cross said they remain committed to ensuring freedom of expression on campuses. “The authors have assured us they will work with us moving forward to maintain the free exchange of ideas throughout the UW System,” he said.