The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents has approved a resolution showing commitment to free speech on campuses. Friday’s action comes in response to efforts by the Republican controlled legislature to penalize students who try to disrupt events on campuses that feature controversial speakers.
Prior to the vote (Friday), Regent Tim Higgins of Appleton read from a statement on that issue, which the Regents passed previously, in December of 2015. “Different ideas in the university community will often, and quite naturally, conflict. But it is not the proper role of the university to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they, or others, find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive.”
Advocates of legislation which passed the Assembly last month argue it is needed to make sure conservative voices are not being drowned out by vocal opponents. Critics contend it could trample the free speech rights of students though, and impose harsh penalties on those who try to speak out against hate speech.
“We have survived quite well the whole attack against free speech, and we intend to remind everybody, so that there be no doubt about it, what the policy of this university is and what we expect,” said Regent Jose Delgado of Waukesha
The resolution says the UW System is committed to the freedom of expression and making sure every voice on campus is heard and respected. It also indicates the System plans to review existing policies to make sure each campus supports an environment where civil discussions can occur.
Regent Eve Hall of Milwaukee said she wants to make sure campuses remain safe for all. “So that no matter what the opinions are, people feel safe and secure on the campuses.”
“I think there is an aspect of freedom of expression that we have to realize that human beings don’t always say and think great things,” said Robert Atwell of Green Bay. “There needs to be a process by which people can say them, and learn and interact, and grow.”
The resolution passed Friday on a voice vote, with no one voting no. UW System Present Ray Cross had the last word. “Without civility, it is virtually impossible for the university to pursue its mission: the pursuit of truth.”