College News

Ahead of regents’ vote on free speech draft policy, students and legislators voice concern

Rep. Chris Taylor and Legislative Affairs Chair Kat Kerwin spoke out against the Board of Regents' draft policy.

Image By: McKenzie Halling

The Board of Regents’ proposed free speech draft policy would harm students’ ability to express dissenting opinions on campus, state and campus leaders argued Thursday.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and ASM’s Legislative Affairs Chair Kat Kerwin cited its strict punishment of counter-protesting and the legislation’s broad language as causes for concern.

The conference comes after the regents’ policy draft was released earlier in the week. Under the proposed policy, if students disrupt others during speeches or similar events, they would be suspended or expelled, depending on the severity and frequency of the disruptive instances.

While the draft has been touted as a policy that would protect those who come to campuses to give speeches, many students and representatives argue that it would silence student voices across campus and allow for divisive speech to go unchecked.

“It’s important to note the power of counter-protest,” Kerwin said. The student representative sees counter-protesting as a form of expression in itself, and punishing would be "a tremendous assault on student power.”

Taylor agreed, saying the policy draft would “chill student speech” on campus.

“We should all agree that the UW System and UW campuses should support broad freedoms for open discussion and ideas,” Taylor said.

The regents’ proposed policy does not do this, Taylor said.

She said the policy’s vague wording would allow for broad interpretations for what would constitute a disruption. For example, sponsors of the draft haven’t stated if a “yes” or “no” yelled by a student during a speech could be constituted as a disruption.

“To criminalize protests and to criminalize students who are speaking out against hate speakers would be a huge disservice to the campus,” Kerwin said.

She added that students should pay attention to the upcoming vote and that “[they] need to take this resolution very, very seriously.”

The regents will vote on the policy Friday.

Hugh Hudson contributed to this report.

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