College News

Regents approve policy to punish student protesters

The Board of Regents passed a free speech policy resolution Friday that gives strict punishment to students who disrupt a controversial campus speaker.

Expulsion and suspension will be handed down to students who disrupt speakers on campus, after the Board of Regents voted in favor of their policy resolution Friday.

The resolution is aimed to “communicate the Board’s commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression, as well as set expectations for those who violate those freedoms.” A student who protests a controversial speaker now faces the following:

  1. An investigation and disciplinary hearing for students who allegedly disrupt a speaker.
  2. A one-semester suspension for students found guilty.
  3. After three incidents, the student would be expelled.

Additionally, if chancellors choose not to suspend a student who disrupts speakers, they will have to provide an explanation for this decision to the Board of Regents. Additionally, the System must annually compile all complaints into a report for the Regents.

“Campuses across the country are wrestling with the question of appropriate behavior of students,” Board of Regents John Behling said. “Through this policy, we inform students and taxpayers that we can provide a world-class education in an atmosphere where civility, respect and safety is required and expected.”

State Superintendent Tony Evers, and ex-officio regent and the only member not appointed by Gov. Walker, was the only one who voted against the resolution.

The regent policy is similar to the highly controversial Campus Free Speech Act which cleared the state Assembly on near party lines in July and now rests with the state Senate. However many, including Chancellor Rebecca Blank, speculate that the Senate will not take up the bill with a regent policy in place.

The legislation's champions claim it is necessary for protecting speakers after former Breitbart editor, Ben Shapiro, came to the UW-Madison campus last year.

The lecture was interrupted when protesters and began shouting and attendees shouted back, Shapiro included. On the protestors’ way out, one person flipped off Shapiro and he responded by giving two middle fingers.

UW-Police were there; no one was arrested and Shapiro was able to finish his lecture.

After the incident, UW-Madison released a statement.

“We are dedicated to promoting a campus environment where all people feel valued and respected,” the statement reads. “To that end, the university expects community members to engage in discussion, especially over controversial issues, in ways that are respectful of others’ viewpoints and that promote greater understanding. We are disappointed that some attendees at the event chose not to do so.”

Blank said she thinks the Shapiro protest is in fact an example of how things could be handled well; the protesters informed event organizers in advance that they would be protesting for about 15 minutes and then would leave.

Students have also been very vocal about the policy, saying it will chill student speech. UW System Student Representatives released a statement urging the Board of Regents to give fair treatment to students as well as campus speakers.

“We seek to give all students the ability to express themselves in an open, civilized manner,” the statement reads. “We hope that the Regents will equally prioritize the concerns of students in this process and to give all parties fair opportunity to express their concerns about this proposal and the processes it establishes.”

At a press conference Thursday, Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who represents the UW-Madison community, added to the dissent and criticized the draft for its overall lack of clarity about punishments.

“These broad, vague prohibitions will leave students, faculty and staff in the position of not knowing what type of conduct is prohibited,” Taylor said. “Rather than encouraging rigorous debate and the free exchange of ideas, this proposal will curtail robust discussions and protected expressive activity.”

The UW System Student Representatives will have their meeting Saturday at UW-Stout where they will discuss the passage of the free speech policy resolution.

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