The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents has adopted a policy that would create penalties for students who repeatedly disrupt on-campus speakers.
Under the resolution approved Friday, students who disrupt on-campus speakers twice would be suspended, while they would face expulsion for a third offense. The policy mirrors a bill currently making its way through the Legislature, which comes in response to several high-profile incidents in other states where students have sought to prevent controversial speakers from delivering their message on campus.
Several regents spoke in support of the language, saying it will help ensure all sides of an issue have a chance to be heard. “It is not intended to chill free expression, but to preserve it,” said Regent Robert Atwell. “To make clear to those who would suppress it that we intend to recover the ability to talk with people with whom we disagree.”
Ahead of Friday’s vote on the UW-Stout campus, senior Colton Schoenike urged the board to consider changes that would help prevent the policy from being abused or weaken its enforcement. Schoenike argued the current version is too vague, and regents should not rely on fixing it later “at the expense of students…who are harmed by this policy in the meantime.”
State Superintendent Tony Evers, the lone regent to vote against the policy, also raised concerns about its ability to discourage opponents of controversial speech from speaking out themselves, and described it as a solution in search of a problem. “Defining disruption, defining interfering against free speech…we already have existing policies that deal with these issues,” he said.
The resolution passed on a voice vote.