Wisconsin Legislators Move To Force Universities To Support Free Speech Rights On Campuses

suspend or expel students who disrupt speakers.  I agree that schools need to suspend or expel students who are engaging in violent or extremely disruptive conduct like shutting down classes like the one at Northwestern. Notably, while a few suspensions were handed out after the assault on a faculty member at Middlebury, no one was expelled.  However, the Wisconsin law is concerning in its language and scope.  We need faculty to stand up for free speech and stand up to these disruptive students, including serious disciplinary action.

I generally oppose legislative interventions in our schools. It is rarely a positive element and can lead to political manipulation of our academic institutions by people with little experience or understanding of the educational mission.  I will admit that, watching the loss of free speech across the country, I have begun to consider such legislative measures in the absence of faculty action.  One of the most depressing elements of this controversy has been the silence of most faculty members. I have heard from faculty who say that they do not want to be labelled racist or insensitive in this environment.  There are already rules against assault and disruptive conduct on campuses.  They are simply not enforced evenly and actively.

Nevertheless, the law is worrisome in its language in applying a type of three strikes approach to the problem.  The bill would require a hearing when any two people complain about a student’s conduct at a speech or presentation.  If a student is found to have engaged in violence or disorderly conduct twice under the law, he or she would be suspended for a semester.  A third offense would require expulsion.

While all of the Democrats voted against the measure, I believe that faculty members are forcing the hand of legislators by failing to act to protect free speech or even academic freedom (as with Northwestern).  The desire to force faculty to act is understandable.  I just do not like the micromanagement of educational institutions.  Another approach could be to curtail funding for schools which do not protect free speech, including schools that claim security as an excuse to deny conservative speakers (as we discussed with regard to schools like DePaul in Chicago).  Legislators could also promulgate new guidelines for free speech and publicly list those schools with a poor record of protecting free speech rights.

This is a real problem and, if faculty cannot stand firm on academic principles of free speech and academic freedom, they are inviting legislative intervention.  I hope that it does not come to that.  I do not view the Wisconsin law as unreasonable or unwarranted. I would just prefer for the schools to show responsibility and develop their own solutions to this problem.


58 thoughts on “Wisconsin Legislators Move To Force Universities To Support Free Speech Rights On Campuses”

  1. It is telling how there was reportedly not one democrat supported the bill. One would think that of all those legislators, at least a few would have agreed to some measure of protecting free speech rights of others. But as we have seen in the past, and have reported here, of a poll that shown that democrats are twice as likely to support censorship of a message of which they disagreed.

    Of course, if the campus censorship occurred against those voicing democrat “values” they would certainly have fallen over themselves to enact such legislation.

    One of the problems is with campus police who are essentially under the thumb of school administrators and officials. Hence, little is done when criminal violations occur and politics is involved.

    1. One of the problems is with campus police who are essentially under the thumb of school administrators and officials. Hence, little is done when criminal violations occur and politics is involved.

      If it’s a state campus, you can institute state law analogous to the federal statute which allows the president to take command of a state’s National Guard. Allow local Sheriffs or the state police to assume command of campus security at their discretion. Where that’s troublesome is in loci like Berkeley where the local government is corrupt.

    2. Darren, Dems fled Wisconsin to Illinois like rats to avoid voting on the Wisconsin union bill that caused a recall. Wisconsin Dems are cowards.

  2. It appears to me that this particular piece of legislation is an attempted “cure” (for a legitimate problem) that, if enacted, is likely to create other problems that could be just as bad as the desease. Suppression of viewpoints by intimidation, violence or by any other similar means is wrong. Particularly in a university setting.

    There are bullies on both the left and the right. Even if partisans refuse to acknowledge bullies of their own political persuasion.

    1. There are bullies on both the left and the right.

      It’s higher education we’re talking about, so, no there aren’t unless you’re talking about the biker club at Hillsdale.

  3. We must burn the village to save it.

    What is in the water? The right to protest is a RIGHT, not subject to removal. Of course, USGinc. has removed that right (along with many others) and all kinds of other entities keep removing our rights.

    The only hope is to enforce the bill of rights. Nothing more, nothing less.

    1. Come on, Jill. No one rational defines “protesting” as shouting down another speaker or disrupting an event with violence or threats of violence. That’s anarchy to which no one has a RIGHT. The BOR doesn’t require us to suffer bullies in the name of free speech despite what the Left will tell you.

  4. Mr. Hurley:
    I agree that legislation should not be needed to reinforce a Constitutional Right. The first question is. How did we get to this point? That is a long and worthy answer for which there is not enough room in this box to site. My foremost answer is that of a long and muddy trail in this country, where we are leaving morals and social responsibility’s behind. You can prescribe your own list of catalysts I am sure.
    “These truths shall be self-evident”. Well maybe not any more. With you, I know that I am speaking to the choir but we have learned that our Constitution was not written for a government of immoral legislators. How can we expect frightened and aggrieved professors to correct this problem.

    Lets presume for a moment that our laws are written (only) with the Constitution in mind. If so, then only the application of those statutes are at issue. If the unjust remedy is the issue, then the result will be unjust.
    There has to be a bulwark somewhere on this erosion of First Amendment rights or we will loose it all. The recipe for this legislative action is in of it’s self a form of overreach by the State of Wisconsin. Clearly then there is blame to be laid at the foot of the people for allowing the need for this measure to come forth.

  5. I agree that something must be done to ensure that universities do not abuse the Constitutional rights of students with which the faculty and staff do not politically agree. As it stands, the staff is enabling the abusive behavior of students with which they do agree on politics.

    But as Professor Turley pointed out, the answer may not be this particular piece of legislation.

    The answer may be a prominent law firm suing universities who abuse and discriminate against students in this fashion. Or it may be cutting off the funding from establishments that do not follow federal law. There may be unintended consequences to this type of law.

    What should the consequences be for viewpoint discrimination and the curtailment of the First Amendment, applied only to one political party, when it occurs at a federally funded institution?

    1. Karen – since it is primarily a state funded institution, I think state legislation is the perfect solution. It draws a line in the sand for the administration.

  6. “…I would just prefer for the schools to show responsibility and develop their own solutions to this problem…”

    I suggest the author delete the above sentence, or seriously modify it. University Presidents have indeed “solved” the problem of dealing with criminally-violent snow flakes who deny First Amendment protections for those with whom they disagree. Rather than terminate and/or otherwise discipline the offending sometimes criminal students, or provide proper security for perceived offensive speech, Universities always ban speakers and/or fire or otherwise discipline faculty members perceived to perpetrate the crime of disobeying Progressive mind control tactics.

  7. I am heartened by the Wisconsin legislation but even more so by a conversation I had with my son who is fresh off the campus having recently graduated and now, I am proud to say, is managing a branch at a Fortune 100 financial institution. He says the repression is causing a backlash among the students not already poisoned by political correctness. Though quiet, the resentment to those who demand special treatment because of race, gender, etc. is resulting in a grassroots resolve to rectify it at the ballot box. That’s a great unintended consequence of the identity privilege movement and the most effective way to execute the beast.

    1. Congratulations on your son’s graduation and successful start to a promising career.

    2. Thank God for your report that some ratio of graduates have intuition and understanding of history to know these criminally inclined snowflakes point the US toward a path of outright civil war, with commensurate death and blood shed.

      Congrats on your son’s wisdom and achievement. Wishing you and yours all the best.

    3. mespo, I hesitate to use the phrase but it sounds like “a great silent majority.” Congrats.

      1. Every kid from his class that I talked to — across both race and gender lines — is disgusted by the schools’ kowtowing to the crybabies. I wouldn’t want to be soliciting donations from these kids on behalf of colleges.

        1. mespo, My sister worked development for both Yale and Choate[lot of the same alumni] for over 20 years. She got out of academia ~10 years ago. I haven’t discussed this w/ her, but I’m fairly certain she’s happy to not having to explain all this PC horsesh!t to common sense, hard working, real world alumni/donors.

          1. I’ve got a friend who works in college fundraising. She plays it off to a few miscreants but the sheer volume suggests otherwise. She did say it’s a tougher sell than it used to be.

  8. “Live Free or Die”. If they do not let you live free then kill them. I am moving to New Hampshire.

  9. Try reconstituting the governance architecture.

    1. Have the trustees elected by the alumni in a postal ballot..

    a. Assemble for each campus a voter roll. Add a question to state voter registration forms to identify potential electors, cross check the answers with campus alumni records, and then send out inquiries to attempt to resolve discrepancies.

    b. Hold elections quadrennially, the year before a federal presidential election. Have candidates for trustee register with the state board of elections by paying a deposit which could be refunded if the candidate achieved a certain share of the vote (win or lose). Trustees would have to be a minimum of 39 years of age and limited to serving 8 years on the board in any bloc of 12 years.

    c. Eschew a single stereotype in printing the ballot. Have as many stereotypes as you have candidates who qualify, with each candidate having an equal chance to occupy each slot in the ballot order. Print equal numbers of each stereotype and mail out to voters equal numbers of each. You always have some birds who just mark their preferences by running down the ballot. Having variable order will provide an avenue for these people to cancel each other out.

    d. An ordinal ballot tabulated according to the conventions of the alternate vote should be the order of the day.

    e. Invite each candidate to produce a 600 word statement on his candidacy. Assemble the statements into a prospectus and mail it out with the ballot mailed to each voter.

    2. Have the board be of a modest number: the quinary or senary root of the number in the last 60 graduating cohorts would be about right, with a minimum of 5. Boards of 7 or 9 trustees should suffice. (The board of one institution I attended had 63 self-regenerating members). You need an attentive board which can act.

    3. Limit tenured faculty to 1/3 of the total FTE, and prohibit anyone from applying for tenure until they have reached the age of 45 and had at least 12 years service. In the ordinary course of events, faculty would work under renewable multi-year contracts and not receive tenure until about 55 years of age, if ever. Provide for the trustees to revoke tenure at their discretion. This pre-supposes three faculty ranks: instructors who have contracts of < 6 semesters duration, with a terminal contract of 1 semester; lecturers who have contracts of 6-12 semesters, with a terminal contract of 4 semesters; and professors who have continuous tenure.

    4. Establish generous severance for displaced faculty, including cash and retraining.

    5. Leaving aside tutors, lab instructors, and clinical faculty, limit part-time faculty slots to 1 per department (in unsegmented departments like economics or mathematics) and 1 per segment (in segmented departments like biology or political science). Joint appointments would not count against quota, provided the professor in question was f/t with both his departments taken together.

    6. Limit degree and certificate programs to a global set specified in statutory law. Schools could obtain a franchise to offer a particular program by applying to a commission subsidiary to the board of regents, which could entertain objections from other campuses contending that demand was already adequately served. The global set should should incorporate a controlled vocabulary and exclude pseudo-disciplines like victimology programs or 'peace studies'. The controlled vocabulary should provide a precis (of varying degrees of specifcity) of the content of the discipline. Statutory law should be highly prescriptive regarding the content of teaching certificate programs.

    7. End faculty governance. Have consultative faculty committees to assess faculty hiring, faculty promotion, graduation requirements, academic probation, disputes over grades and academic standing, cross listing of courses, and coding of courses.

    8. Vest (by statute) internal investigations in campus security and outside counsel on retainer.

    9. Incorporate a precis of disciplinary manuals in statutory law which would provide a scaffolding of such. Vest in boards of trustees plenary discretion within the limits of that scaffolding. The board, not the dean of students, would enact the disciplinary manual. Include a statutory requirement which incorporates free-speech minima.

    10. Deputize campus security who have received the requisite training. Provide in law for local sheriffs and for the superintendent of the state police to take command of campus security at their discretion.

    1. dss – I think everyone should work ‘at-will.’ You are making it too complex. Tenure is what is keeping these liberal idiots on campus. In the real world, you could say ‘clear your desk, you’re gone.’

      1. The student affairs shnooks are at will employees. The Dean of Students might be due a terminal contract. They’re still a problem.

      2. Paul, you may know the answer to my question: Isn’t tenure what keeps the administration from firing instructors just prior to vesting of their defined-benefit pensions in employment-at-will states? If not, what does protect them from bad-faith discharge in those states in contrast to right-to-work states?

        1. Hi Steve:

          Firing an employee in order to save money on pensions is indeed a valid concern. Here is a list of common wrongful termination laws which vary from state to state. In my own personal opinion, I have long felt that pensions should be replaced with 401Ks. That way the employee owns that benefit, and employer contributions vest periodically. Another risk with pensions is that they could be grossly underfunded, where employers over promise and then the pension under delivers. Here in CA, such a pension system was instrumental in the bankruptcy of a couple of major cities.

          It was my understanding that tenure was an attempt to protect academic freedom. There was a concern that administrators may fire professors with whom they disagreed on their work or conclusions. That is the argument that is commonly made that defends tenure in academia over the rest of the workplace.

          I personally believe that tenure is not the answer. We need unlawful termination protection, and universities could have general rules protecting academic freedom. But making it vastly expensive to fire any professor or teacher for cause has had some quite high profile unintended consequences.


        2. Paul, you may know the answer to my question: Isn’t tenure what keeps the administration from firing instructors just prior to vesting of their defined-benefit pensions in employment-at-will states? If not, what does protect them from bad-faith discharge in those states in contrast to right-to-work states?

          No, it’s not. Higher education employees are members of TIAA – CREF and their accounts are generally portable.

        3. Steve Groen – my wife works for a major bank. She started pension vestments in 1985, when the bank first offered them. All the schools I have worked for, you are vested in the state pension system and payment starts with the first check.

  10. To restore civil public discourse bring back duels. It’s been all downhill since duels were outlawed.

  11. The language is stupid. “Two people …”
    Just have the event inside so you can filter out the non-students, then have the campus police video tape the audience.
    If the event becomes unruly, have the tape reviewed by an anonymous panel of judges and suspensions and expulsions would be handed out if needed.

  12. So, it’s the inverse equivalent? That isn’t a solution. I tell ya, gals and guys, this cohort is going to self-destruct one way or another, this type of rage explodes. We can’t let them destroy the world in the process. It’s alarmist, but when they are older, we could find ourselves fighting World War II again. Let’s work for a better alternative, okay?

  13. I enjoy reading and sometimes engaging with points of view I disagree with. If a speaker is nuts, the best thing is to let him or her speak. Change might come from conversation, or at least I can learn the intricacies of his or her stupidity.

    Instead, such students whine and try to shut down. It’s pathetic.

    And this happens on both sides, even though predictably our fellow commentators immediately dive into their safe-space camps. Waaa, liberals.

  14. Free speech as a right must first be a privilege. Rights are protected by those who exercise them and therefore are deserving of them. Abuse of rights should lead to the loss of rights. In a university environment the purpose is to learn and that right must be protected first and foremost. Those parading rights of free speech that inhibit those there to learn should be taken out of the equation.

    Universities, traditionally, have been environments where ideas and knowledge are exchanged freely and with basic formats that prevent one side from inhibiting another. Within the grounds of a university there should be areas where ‘free speech’ can be exercised without inhibiting the rights of the students who wish not to listen but to read and learn. These, ‘speaker’s corners’, have been around from before the sacred texts of the US. Podiums or ‘soap boxes’ date back to the beginning of civilization. That they should be protected, to be used by those who wish to speak freely, is absolute. Within the areas designated for free speech, those that infringe on those rights in those places, should be taken out of the experience.

    1. Within the grounds of a university there should be areas where ‘free speech’ can be exercised without inhibiting the rights of the students who wish not to listen but to read and learn.

      Within the grounds of the university there should be areas where students are unimpeded from their academics without infringing the free speech rights of any student.

      There, that’s better.

  15. I have to agree with the legislature. Sometimes you have to step in from the outside and restore order to an institution. 3 strikes is not unreasonable and 2 strikes for suspension is not unreasonable.

  16. Faculty intimidation and cowardice has been rife. It’s shameful. If those who have supposedly devoted their lives to education are unable to withstand the onslaught of PC-fascism, what do you suppose is happening everywhere else? The military, in particular, has had to deal with “political manipulation by people with little understanding of the mission” for decades! Welcome
    to the new millennium,

  17. Sooo, basically the Democrats have become such a bunch of thugs that the Legislature has to pass laws to stop the thuggery.

    God save the poor jail that has to feed Trigglypuff.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  18. I’m think if the colleges made a mandatory course on the Bill of Rights, at the beginning of the school year. And preferably taught by a conservative Professor, the children would have a clear understanding of them.
    The videos from Evergreen state college is showing a student trying to read a declaration, it was at a 3rd grade level. Scary.

    1. Ter Ber, First they need to hire a conservative professor!!

    2. Before that happens, someone needs to teach Trump about the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and American political and legal history in general. My cat knows more about all those things than he does. And if that doesn’t concern you, then you don’t really care about this country.

      1. My cat knows more about all those things than he does. And if that doesn’t concern you, then you don’t really care about this country.

        What concerns me is that statement is likely true for most eligible voters. That would also make your cat a far better candidate than Hillary Clinton, and equally unelectable. 🙂

  19. Money is the key. Cut off the gravy train and these schools will get their minds right. Alumni have already started withholding contributions. If the govt. closes the pig trough, free speech will flow!

    1. Absolutely. Fascism practices should not be allowed with Fed funding, totally un-American and discriminatory toward those who have opposing positions. If they want to indoctrinate and discriminate then they need to do it on their own dime, period!!

    2. @Nick, I generally agree with you, but fear that withholding funds is too blunt an instrument. So long as the campus administrators have control over how to spend whatever funds remain, it’s their priorities that will be funded. Various schools that end with “… Studies” will take precedence over History, sciences, etc. We’re talking about the same administrators who are caving in to these ludicrous demands.

  20. Wisconsin….this is not surprising. On the one hand, students who engage in violence against anyone including speakers should be punished by both the criminal law and the code of conduct of the Univeristy but of course that’s not what the “lovely”, “free speech loving” Wisconsin legislators are really after. They want to silence any protest or even opposition particular speakers and ideas.

    1. Many say Scott Walker is ruining the university system in Wisconsin.

    2. Having been a lifelong resident of Wisconsin and a resident of Madison, WI for 35 years I can say very specifically the problem is getting worse, not better at our flagship institution, UW-Madison.My husband & I have enjoyed going to campus to hear the wide and varied speakers they have to learn about all kinds of subjects. Just this year Ben Shapiro came to speak. As you entered the lecture pit you were handed a flyer of rules about behavior. Well, he walked on stage and the shouting began from various area of the lecture pit. For 35-40 minutes this keot happening. He’d say a few words and they’d shout him down, at one point rushing the stage. The only ones responding to that behavior were Shapiro’s personal protection. The campus police in attendance did nothing. Twice I approached a police officer to ask when they were going to get the yahoos under control & was told both times to go sit down. Finally, after 45 minutes the police finally took control and ushered the group out. It was maybe a total of 30 students but they disrupted the event for over 300 people. Shapiro finally was able to speak and told us that a condition of him being able to speak was that he was required to let the disrupters do there thing until the police felt they could usher them out without incident. Otherwise he would not be allowed to speak. So….we were all given written rules about behavior but a “special group” of attendees didn’t have to follow those rules because the campus administration gave them different rules of behavior. How ridiculous is that!

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