College News

Academic staff pushes back against regents’ free speech policy

Students said the ASEC resolution wasn't enough at the Academic Staff Assembly meeting Monday.

Image By: Maggie Chandler

A resolution in support of free speech written by UW-Madison academic staff members was sent back to the drawing board after some students argued that its wording wasn’t strong enough.

The Academic Staff Executive Committee presented a resolution to the Academic Staff Assembly Monday in response to recent legislation handed down by the UW System Board of Regents, which sets mandatory minimum punishments for students who disrupt speakers on campus.

Academic staff members aimed to affirm their commitment to freedom of student speech with Monday’s resolution. According to Kevin Niemi, Academic Staff Executive Committee Chair, this is an issue that could affect students’ ability to learn.

“I don’t want to have dialogue in my class stifled by rules that are imposed on us by the System,” Niemi said.

A handful of students, however, didn’t find the response substantial enough, and submitted their own revised version of ASEC’s resolution.

“[ASEC] was] pretty much saying they disagreed with [the regents’ legislation], but were not calling for it to be revoked,” said Thomas Gunderson, a student involved in drafting the revised resolution.

The original resolution calls for “the Board of Regents to reconsider the policy and allow individual campuses to address these matters as they see fit.” However, students suggested the resolution should affirm that the academic staff of UW-Madison strongly opposes the legislation and “urges its immediate repeal.”

The original resolution was referred back to ASEC, where committee members will now have the opportunity to reconsider the suggestions made at Monday’s meeting.

If ASEC chooses to present the resolution again to the Academic Staff Assembly, and it passes a vote, the resolution will be sent to Chancellor Rebecca Blank and the Board of Regents, among others, according to Secretary of the Academic Staff Heather Daniels.

Gunderson said he hopes the academic staff’s response to the regents’ policy will help protect student speech across all UW System schools in the future.

“This really isn’t just about Madison, it affects the whole UW System,” Gunderson said.

Others still thought the resolution came too late, as the regents’ policy has already passed.

“The [regents’] legislation was voted on a week ago, so it’s really a little too late,” said Kat Kerwin, chair of the Associated Students of Madison Legislative Affairs Committee. Kerwin is one of several students coordinating other forms of pushback to the regents’ policy, along with Gunderson.

But Kerwin said the regents’ policy was passed quickly, and without much transparency, limiting the ability of staff and students to respond.

“We were given a very short turn-around from the Board of Regents to actually comment on the legislation,” Niemi agreed.

ASEC will consider the students’ proposal, and Niemi said he’s happy to see student involvement on the issue of free speech on campus.

“I’m glad they came and expressed their views and we will consider everyone’s views,” Niemi said.

The Legislative Affairs committee is hoping to get students and staff from across the UW System involved in a coordinated pushback to the regents’ policy, but has been disappointed in the response so far.

The UW-Madison Faculty Senate has no current plans to pass a resolution in response to the regents, according to Secretary of the Faculty Steve Smith.

“I think [the Faculty Senate] felt like there were other more pressing issues rather than passing another free speech resolution that, frankly, I think they think probably falls on deaf ears,” Smith said.

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