Wisconsin Adopts New Policy Allowing Suspension or Expulsion of Students Disrupting Speakers or Events

WisconsinStateSealMany of us have been warning for years about the anti-free speech activities of various protest groups in barring speakers and even taking over classrooms.  I have long advocated suspending students who prevent others from speaking or attending such events and expelling those who are repeat offenders.  Now the University of Wisconsin system has adopted such an approach, though some of the terminology is problematic in my view.  Nevertheless, while the policy (found here) could be more specific in defining terms like “disrupt,” it is a move that could go a long way in restoring free speech protections.

The Board of Regents adopted a policy which states that students found to have twice engaged in violence or other disorderly conduct that disrupts others’ free speech would be suspended. Students found to have disrupted others’ free expression three times would be expelled.

Wisconsin System President Ray Cross announced that “Perhaps the most important thing we can do as a university is to teach students how to engage and listen to those with whom they differ.” Amen.


The alternative can be seen at places like Berkeley where students silence speakers and even teachers who hold opposing views.  As recently discussed, even University President have been barred from speaking by students and professors have been blocked from giving tests or even teaching their classes. Universities like Northwestern have allowed students to disrupt classes without apparent discipline.

State public schools Superintendent Tony Evers was the only negative vote.  Evers accused the regents of denying free speech.  In fairness to Evers, I think that the policy could be more specific on key terms when it proscribes conduct that “materially and substantially disrupt the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity.”  Vague terms can themselves be inimical to free speech.  Clearly students should be able to protest and those protests can be “disruptive” in the sense that their size or volume can impact an event. However, the proscribed conduct should focus on actively barring doors or entering rooms to prevent speakers from being heard.  For that reason, I would not favor this draft of the policy but I also believe that this type of policy is needed on campuses through the country.

I am equally concerned by language like the following:

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not mean that members of the university community may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. Consistent with longstanding practice informed by law, institutions within the System may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or discriminatory harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the university.

Again, it is not clear what is “otherwise directly incompatible with the function of the university” — an expression that could be read quite broadly.  The policy does state:

These freedoms include the right to speak and write as a member of the university community or as a private citizen without institutional discipline or restraint, on scholarly matters, or on matters of public concern.

Those protections need to be more robustly and concretely stated in my view.

Since the policy has to be accompanied by regulations or administrative procedures for implementation, I am hoping that the system will add needed clarity to protect the speech rights of protesters.  There is a understandable need to adopt more general language in policies but free speech demands clarity when it comes to potential discipline for expressive conduct.  That can be accomplished with narrowing language and focuses on violent conduct as well action taken to prevent access to events or misconduct within events.  It can also clarify that disruptions do not include protests outside of events (the specific room or venue of a speech for example) so long as those protests are not violent and do not seeking to bar access to the event.

What is clear is that the current rules are fostering a “heckler’s veto” that is fundamentally at odds with the values of high education.  Schools need to be more proactive and frankly principled in telling students that efforts to prevent people from speaking or being heard will not be tolerated and could ultimately lead to their suspension or expulsion.

What do you think?

63 thoughts on “Wisconsin Adopts New Policy Allowing Suspension or Expulsion of Students Disrupting Speakers or Events”

  1. I think it’s too late for those headed to “higher education” in the near future. Until teachers in elementary schools and high schools have the good sense to require respect from their students and the courage from administrators in these schools to support teachers with good sense who deserve that respect, colleges will keep inheriting the fruits of “lower education.” It is a rotten harvest, isn’t it? Lord, have mercy.

  2. CV Brown – we just had a long discussion on paleo diets and vitamins, why not books? You are welcome to join us.

  3. Instead of suspending students it might be a better idea to engage them in dialogue. Why are they protesting? Is there some way that their concerns can be addressed? Just shutting them down is a violation (in a state run school) of their right to free speech. Are they disruptive? Yes, that is their intent. If they were being heard there would be no reason for continuing to protest. The state run school is taking lessons from the President who wants to shut down anything and anyone who disagrees with him.

    They would be better served by taking lessons from Nate Boyer and Colin Kaepernick. Boyer didn’t like Kaepernick’s apparent disrespect of the flag and his Green Beret service and wrote him a letter. Kaepernick responded to the letter. They talked. After hearing Kaepernick’s reasons for the protest Boyer recommended that Kaepernick take a knee as a sign of respect, just like service members do when paying respect to their fallen comrades. Kaepernick agreed to the change. Unfortunately, the President and the President-in-waiting decided that furthering the disagreement was more to their liking and no attempt has been made to bridge it. Instead they have worked in concert to further divide us. I strongly prefer the real leadership of Kaepernick and Boyer, two guys who disagreed, talked to see the other guys point of view and changed their positions to one that they both can support.

    1. bettykath,

      What about the rights of the students who want to get (and pay for) an education? Do you think it is ok for the protesters to interrupt a professor’s ability to teach a class or give a test? That is where I think they must be shut down. Their right to free speech isn’t more important than the rights of others.

      1. What about the rights of the students who want to get (and pay for) an education?

        You’re missing the point. What’s important is bettykath’s feelz.

    2. Instead of suspending students it might be a better idea to engage them in dialogue.

      No. When I go to a lecture by Heather MacDonald, I go to hear Heather MacDonald. If she’s willing to take questions, I hear those. What I do not go to hear is some juvenile version of ‘bettykath’ engaged in ‘dialougue’ while Heather MacDonald is trying to speak. Give your own bloody lectures, woman.

    1. Do they really need to create a policy specifically for this? Isn’t there likely some broader policy that could be used to discipline unruly students, like don’t do stupid things or you will be disciplined? It seems to me that when they start specifying instances of what can’t be done, then in a way they are tacitly approving other stupid things that can be done because there isn’t a policy against doing them.

    2. I am talking about de-escalation in a way that leaves everyone better off, including the students who want to hear whatever is being protested. You don’t resolve protests just by shutting them down. There are issues that need to be resolved. When the issues are resolved, or not, after honest discussion that might include mediation, then the speakers, the administration, and all students are winners. Just shutting down the protests by getting rid of the protestors really doesn’t resolve anything because the underlying is still there.

      1. I am talking about de-escalation in a way that leaves everyone better off,

        The easiest way to do that is for the mouthy and obstreperous youths making a ruckus to STFU and wait for the question period if they have something to say. Better yet, invite your own lecturers.

      2. Wrong bettykath. If I’m paying money to listen to someone or get an education I couldn’t care less about becoming “better off” in your opinion. I have a right to receive the service I paid for, uninterrupted. It is wrong that someone thinks their right to protest whatever is more important than my right to listen to a professor. Handcuffing the protesters and frog marching them out of the area certainly would resolve things.

      3. Protests don’t come out of thin air. When issues arise, they need to be addressed before it gets to the point of some people shutting down others. The dialog won’t be particularly helpful during the protest but contact with the group should be made at a quieter time with discussions to continue with honest listening. A trained mediator can often help both sides hear the other better. People who are protesting have a reason or two. You might not agree with them, but an honest dialog won’t hurt and increased understanding just might defuse the situation and lead to a solution.

        1. Protests don’t come out of thin air. When issues arise, they need to be addressed before it gets to the point of some people shutting down others. T

          There’s nothing to address. The youths involved are an extension of the worst elements on the faculty and in the administration and their complaints are bogus. If they don’t like an outside speaker, no one’s forcing them to attend the talk. If they want to contend with that person, there are mikes and question times.

          They do not have any serious complaints or any excuses. Toss ’em out.

        2. bettykath, protests absolutely come out of thin air. Two disparate examples: the students in Berkeley’s Latin Studies class who protested having to take their midterm, and the BLM students at Columbia protesting Tommy Robinson’s speech. As the video JT provided indicates, the former students had to reach as far afield as the Puerto Ricans suffering from the hurricane in order to bring gravitas to their ludicrous demands to be given a free pass on having to study, while the latter would never have known who Tommy Robinson is (his issue is Muslim grooming gangs in English towns and the establishment of Sharia law in Muslim-dominated neighborhoods in his native Luton, England and elsewhere) had the SPLC not supported and instigated the protest. The SPLC has called moderate Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz “terrorists” because they inform people about the negative aspects of Islamic religious practices and Islamic terrorism.

  4. Private universities persist on consumers.

    Consumers dictate the policies of private universities.

    Public universities are corruption by definition.

    Public universities must be privatized.

  5. This should be opposed. Crafting “guidelines” which people can drive a truck through will not help maintain free speech, it will quell it. It will leave decision on who will be punished to the whims of a small group of people.

    There is a great deal of quelling of speech going on right now. I am struck by how police state groups like Antifa are. One might suspect some of their members come from the corrupt wing of “law” enforcement since they certainly act just like them. However, there is already a remedy in place to violence-arrest.

    I found this at assange’s twitter: “The large two-day conference, which has 37 speakers listed, is to be held UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. US organizers have stacked the conference with WikiLeaks opponents and blocked all speakers from WikiLeaks, stating that the decision to censor WikiLeaks representation was an exercise in ’freedom of expression… our right to give voice to speakers of our choice’.”


    Make the guidelines minimal, clear and applicable to all. Until that is done, these types of actions will do far more harm than good.

  6. I think a lot of these protesters are paid by Soros et al.

    There are plenty of valid issues that they could protest like Wells Fargo (thanks Mr. Too Big to Fail, too big to Jail Holder, and WTH is Sessions doing??)

  7. FIRE has written several articles on this bill. This was published yesterday:

    Critics of the bill and this newly adopted policy argue that the bill will unconstitutionally clamp down on the right to protest. But if the “material and substantial disruption” standard is applied properly and in good faith to events in reserved spaces — and FIRE will watch closely to make sure that it is — it should protect the expressive rights of speakers, audience members, and peaceful protestors alike. The provision must only be construed to reach conduct that intends to or succeeds in preventing people from speaking, hearing a speaker, or attending an event. Walking out of a speech, holding a sign outside an event, chanting outdoors, brief heckling — none of these types of expressive activity should be found to constitute material and substantial disruption.

    New Wisconsin Regents policy has problems and promise

  8. And the hits just keep on coming.

    This week, the president of Texas Southern University intervened to shut down a Federalist Society event featuring Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain at the TSU law school. Dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters crashed the event, shouting, “When a racist comes to town, shut it down!” and other slogans meant to smear Cain, a member of the conservative Texas House Freedom Caucus. The protesters were eventually cleared from the room, but no sooner had they left than TSU President Austin Lane arrived on the scene, invited the protesters back in, and had Cain escorted from campus by police under the pretext that it was for his own safety.


    1. http://www.tsu.edu/about/office-of-the-president/presidents-bio.php

      The college president was playing shell-games with the Federalist Society, claiming they hadn’t gone through the necessary paces to hold an ‘authorized’ event. (The chapter president denies this).

      Checking GoogleScholar, it would appear the college president’s publications amount to bupkis. He did complete a dissertation of sorts 7 years ago, in an EdD program. As far as I can tell from the list of tables, his ‘data analysis’ was limited to descriptive statistics.

  9. This ongoing free speech storm has seemed unrelentingly negative until this story. Maybe, just maybe some sanity will return and the storm will quiet way down. The next step will be to clean up the mess left behind, like the idiotic California law that will bring a fine and jail time for using the wrong gender pronoun. A penalty by the way that is more severe than the now misdemeanor of knowingly infecting someone with HIV.

  10. To truly appreciate history and politics one must understand irony. UW was one of the first schools to create PC speech codes back in the 80’s.

  11. I think that the blog needs an itShay list of schools which foster speech control or which go on the left wing rumpus. Then we can tell our friends and their children not to go to such places. Private colleges are too expensive. We need a list of good state schools.

  12. Prof. Howard Wasserman, pettifogger, has been whining that ‘counter-speech’ has now been outlawed.

  13. Hard to believe that the university’s attorney passed muster on that one. Nontheless, it is a start.

  14. I am going to reserve judgment until the next disruption. Then we will see how they enforce it.

    1. I have misgivings, too. The verbiage leads me to believe they are attempting to placate someone, nothing more.

      1. enigma – we were thinking of setting up a discussion group on here. You in? Several people have read it.

          1. enigma – btw, I am enjoying the Marshall book, but I have to finish a book on microbes by the 18th for my non-fiction group and the book is like reading a textbook. Hopefully, there will not be a final exam.

  15. I’m guardedly optimistic.

    Unless they rewrite the relevant sections, “incompatible with the functioning of the university” could mean having a conservative speaker on campus and the resulting riots and hysteria about the possibility of hearing an opposing view.

    We will have to see how this plays out.

    1. Many policies and laws are simply lip service to show that “something was done” but in actuality they make the law unenforceable or without fangs so the status quo is maintained.

      1. Here is an example.

        In the mid 1980s, merchants of course became increasingly upset they were losing expensive shopping carts to thieves and transients so they lobbied the legislature to enact a specific theft category for these. One of the difficulties before was that the merchants allowed the public to use the carts and legally at the time it was not easy to enforce a standard theft charge.

        Unfortunately, the legislature had unreasonable expectations to forced amendments to water down the bill, and as passed it because effectively unenforceable. Somehow there are politicians that continue to believe that homeless persons have a right to steal shopping carts.

        Pay particular attention to the last item (2).

        RCW 9A.56.270
        Shopping cart theft.

        (1) It is unlawful to do any of the following acts, if a shopping cart has a permanently affixed sign as provided in subsection (2) of this section:

        (a) To remove a shopping cart from the parking area of a retail establishment with the intent to deprive the owner of the shopping cart the use of the cart; or

        (b) To be in possession of any shopping cart that has been removed from the parking area of a retail establishment with the intent to deprive the owner of the shopping cart the use of the cart.

        (2) This section shall apply only when a shopping cart: (a) Has a sign permanently affixed to it that identifies the owner of the cart or the retailer, or both; (b) notifies the public of the procedure to be utilized for authorized removal of the cart from the premises; (c) notifies the public that the unauthorized removal of the cart from the premises or parking area of the retail establishment, or the unauthorized possession of the cart, is unlawful; and (d) lists a telephone number or address for returning carts removed from the premises or parking area to the owner or retailer.

        (3) Any person who violates any provision of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor
        Because adding one of these signs to each shopping cart, and many retailers have hundreds, is expensive, I have never seen a shopping cart that had all the necessary required text, the law is unenforceable. So the merchants got burned and the theft of shopping carts continues.

        1. Darren – In my area the merchants employee “cart recovery” companies who drive around looking for shopping carts to return to the stores. The merchant pays $75 for each recovered cart. Which, of course, is passed on to the consumer in higher grocery costs. I don’t know if these cart bounty hunters confront the homeless people and take their carts, or if they just pick up the abandoned ones.

          1. I see a business opportunity for the bounty hunter. “Hire the Homeless” to take the carts and then pay them from the bounty you receive for getting them back.

          2. Speaking of the homeless, politicians have made a deadly error encouraging people to live on the street. Medieval level hygiene and living conditions yield Medieval rates of plagues.

            I was in a city of SoCal and noticed a strong smell of feces as a worker was leaf blowing the street. It was because the homeless kept taking over business industrial areas. It’s difficult to get them removed each time. Drug addicts do not have the same hygiene as someone just down on their luck. They poop and pee in the street. It’s so bad that human waste is part of the general dirt of the city now. The smell is incredibly strong when the leaf blow. Do you have any idea what it does to a cootie phobe to realize poop has aerosolized? And the people leaf blowing are always Hispanic with little to no English. The serf class California created with open borders and pro illegal immigrant programs. The wealthy and the city does need it’s servants whom are treated in a way they wouldn’t dream of doing to a citizen.

            Why have building codes if they allow shanty cesspools to spring up? Because they need a platform, and it’s usually businesses who are hurt the worse. And they hate business owners in CA.

            1. People have died in San Diego from Hep A from the homeless encampments. This is yet another issue that drives us away from the Left.

            2. One of the things I don’t miss about CA–hearing leaf blowers going all day every day.

          1. issac – Bubbles was very good at collecting carts, but the last couple of seasons I don’t see him doing that. He has been corrupted more than ever. However, his cat colony is getting bigger.

        2. That is sad, because grocery stores must pass on these costs to consumers, which disproportionately affect poor shoppers the most. They pay for cart losses, cart recovery bounty hunting, or carts that lock wheels past a certain point.

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