Jonathan ("collusion is not a crime") Turley, Professor of law at the George Washington University, has been a big supporter of so-called free speech legislation on public campuses around the country. But even he has some reservations when it comes to the University of Wisconsin's just adopted policy that punishes protesters who may or may not have tried to shut down speakers, guest or otherwise.
Turley: State public schools Superintendent Tony Evers was the only negative vote. 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 ... 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.
Here's the legislation cooked up by Republicans so far, that forces taxpayers to either pay for right wing security or, believe it or not, throw caution to the wind when it comes to public safety:
The bill also requires administrators to make all reasonable efforts and make available all reasonable resources to ensure the safety of individuals invited to speak on campuses. If they cannot ensure an individual's safety, the bill requires that the individual must be allowed to speak in spite of that determination.And even though you think you have a right to protest...you don't, considering the broad prohibition below:
The bill also prohibits a person from ... threatening to organize protests or riots or to incite violence with the purpose to dissuade or intimidate an invited speaker from attending a campus event.Despite Democratic opposition, their opinion is irrelevant until they get a Republicans stamp of approval. That's just the way things are now:
Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) said “It’s disappointing that the UW System Board of Regents are willing to consider a policy that will give comfort to people coming to our campuses preaching hate and that we are threatening expulsions for students who stand up to hateful rhetoric and actions."
Kat Kerwin, UW-Madison student and Associated Students of Madison representative, said as a campus leader and activist, she was concerned that the vaguely defined definition of punishable protest "may put my education at risk at the expense of my activism."