The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents is considering a policy that would protect free speech on UW campuses by threatening punishment for those students who attempt to disrupt a campus speaker multiple times. If a student is found to have “engaged in violent or other disorderly misconduct that materially and substantially disrupted the free expression of others” twice, they could face suspension. Three times could result in expulsion.
Senator LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, issued a press release urging Board of Regents to modify or not adopt the policy.
The press release shows why the policy is necessary.
“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,” Johnson said in the release. “Someone like my daughter, a black student on the UW – Milwaukee campus, should never have to feel threatened or fear for their safety because of the color of their skin.”
The UW policy, of course, does not protect speakers who are making threats against individuals. That’s still a matter for the police. But that isn’t what Johnson means. To Johnson, speech that her daughter might find objectionable is somehow threatening. Adults, and even college students, should know better. Furthermore, to “stand up to hateful rhetoric and actions” does not give anyone, including Johnson’s daughter, the right to prevent others from speaking.
The press release also quotes UW-Madison student Kat Kerwin, a member of the student government.
“The Board of Regents Freedom of Speech Resolution is a one sided attack on student power,” Kerwin said. “As a campus leader and activist I am concerned that the vaguely defined definition of punishable protest may put my education at risk at the expense of my activism. I call the Regents to vote with student interests.” (Apparently they don’t teach the proper usage of hyphens and commas in college.)
Kerwin’s description of a “one sided attack on student power” is what this debate is really about for the left. They want to preserve their power of the heckler’s veto that has been so often exercised on other campuses around the country. They want the ability to shut down speakers with whom they disagree, just as they attempted to shout down conservative Ben Shapiro when he spoke to at UW-Madison last year.
Finally, Taylor strays into loony left territory with this comment, “The Board of Regents doesn’t even mandate that serial rapists get expelled from UW, but if you are found to have disrupted a speech, you’re out!” Let’s remind Taylor that serial rapists are a matter for the police, even in Madison, and expulsion should be the least of their worries. Long prison sentences are the appropriate punishment in those cases, and we’ll note that the Board of Regents is not recommending any referral for criminal investigation for students who disrupt a speech on campus.
We’re skeptical of the UW Board of Regents policy ourselves. What one Board of Regents proposes, the next one under a different governor disposes. We would rather have the proposed speech protections codified by the legislature.
But what the press release reveals is not a concern for the protection of free speech, but the protection of leftist mob power on campuses. We should expect “student leaders” like Kerwin or Johnson’s daughter to know how to behave responsibly when confronted with speech they find objectionable. But how can they when the supposed adults that should know better are defending, and even encouraging, the disruptive behavior?