It’s good to know that the First Amendment is protected on college campuses. Not.
The University of Wisconsin recently approved a policy that will suspend or expel students who disrupt campus speeches and presentations—because they are infringing on others’ free speech—an ironic and dangerous threat to the right to protest everywhere.
The Associated Press reports that the university’s board of regents adopted the language in a vote Friday. The policy states that students found to have twice engaged in “violence or other disorderly conduct” would be suspended. Three times and you’re out (expelled).
The new Wisconsin policy is similar to Republican legislation that the state Assembly passed in June, though it has not been ratified by the state Senate. It comes on the heels of cancellations at several schools, including the University of California, Berkeley, of conservative speakers because of protests that have sometimes gotten violent.
AP reports that regents President John Robert Behling told the board before Friday’s vote that adopting the policy ahead of the legislation shows “a responsiveness to what’s going on in the Capitol, which helps build relationships.”
Republican Gov. Scott Walker appointed all but two of the board’s 18 members.
“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,” said system President Ray Cross. “If we don’t show students how to do this, who will? Without civil discourse and a willingness to listen and engage with different voices, all we are doing is reinforcing our existing values.”
State public schools Superintendent Tony Evers, on the board by virtue of his position, and a Democratic candidate running against Walker in next year’s gubernatorial election, cast the only dissenting vote.
“This policy will chill and suppress free speech on this campus and all campuses,” Evers said.
“Who’s going to show up to a protest if they think they could be potentially expelled?” asked Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor.
A senior at the university, Savion Castro, accused the regents of “capitulating to a band of right-wing extremists.”
Regent Regina Millner defended the resolution at the meeting, saying that it’s designed to promote listening.
“I don’t consider drowning out another speaker as freedom of speech,” Millner said. “That doesn’t qualify.”
What’s next? Arrest for protesting the national anthem during football games? Exorbitant fines for protest against police brutality?
At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. Keep an eye on these state legislatures, people.
Read more at the Associated Press.
Editor’s note: The headline has been changed to note that this policy affects the entire University of Wisconsin system, which includes about 182,000 students.