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This college is taking drastic action against students who disrupt speakers

Protesters shout at each other during a free speech rally with right wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos at U.C. Berkeley on Sept. 24, in Berkeley, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

'Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression'

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents passed a policy Friday (see Page 4 of this document) aimed at punishing students for disruptive protests at speaking events, which have become more common on campuses over the past year.

Specifically, students at colleges across the nation have protested speakers, often conservative in viewpoint, by "shouting them down" and making it impossible for attendees to hear what is being said. The policy refers to this as “violent or other disorderly misconduct that materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others."

This policy would mean that students could be suspended for their second disruption of free expression, and expelled for their third offense.

UW students might have to think twice before bringing a bullhorn to the next conservative speech they want to protest.

Some excerpts from the policy

"Of course, different ideas in the university community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they, or others, find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive."

"Although members of the university community at each institution are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others, including speakers who are invited to campus, to express views they reject or even loathe."

"Protests and demonstrations that materially and substantially disrupt the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity shall not be permitted and shall be subject to sanction. This policy shall not prohibit administrators, faculty, or other instructors from maintaining order"

Background

The policy is similar to a Republican-backed bill in the Wisconsin statehouse to address the growing issue of "heckler's veto" protests.

Here are some other examples of disruptive protests similar to the ones the UW policy seeks to prevent:

  • University of Oregon students shut down the State of the University speech Friday with a loud protest that included a megaphone and banners.
  • Virginia Tech students interrupted the school president's speech with protests of the employment of a graduate assistant accused of being a white supremacist.
  • William and Mary students derailed an American Civil Liberties Union speech with persistent shouts of protest.
  • The University of California, Berkeley, has been forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on security because of rowdy protesters of conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro.

Both sides of the argument

Regent Jose Delgado on why he supports the policy: "I came to this country from Cuba when I was 14 years old. I lived under a government that tightened the grip on public opinion, which ultimately led to violence.  We must open our mind to rational discourse. I feel the pain when I hear an opinion I vehemently disagree with, but any limitation to this type of conversation cannot be accepted.  And it would be a scandal to do so at our university, which is why I support this policy."

Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) on why she is against the policy: “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."

(H/T Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

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