Students and state lawmakers are calling on the University of Wisconsin System’s Board of Regents to reconsider plans to take up a resolution that would create new penalties for those who disrupt events on campus.
The resolution, scheduled for a vote Friday, comes in response to concerns about student protesters around the country blocking controversial speakers who appear at campus events. If adopted, students who disrupt free expression twice could be suspended, or expelled if they do so three times.
During a news conference at the Capitol Thursday, UW-Madison senior Louise Lyall argued regents are considering a policy that puts the interests of outside speakers ahead of students and staff, while junior and student activist Kat Kerwin argued criminalizing protest and punishing those who speak out against hate speech on campus would amount to a “tremendous assault on student power.”
State Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) said the policy is more severe than the penalties in place for students who commit sexual assault, since even serial rapists don’t face the possibility of being automatically suspended. “And yet, if you shout out ‘no’ or ‘yes’ during a speech, or otherwise express yourselves in ways that may interfere with somebody else’s First Amendment rights…you risk serious serious penalties.”
The policy mirrors a bill that passed the Assembly earlier this year, but has not yet been taken up by the Senate. UW System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said regents are acting because they prefer to develop their own policies.
Regents are set to take up the resolution during a meeting Friday on the UW-Stout campus in Menomonie.