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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The UW System Board of Regents took another step toward mandating punishments  — suspension after two incidents and expulsion after three — for students who disrupt others’ free speech in the long road to amend System rules Friday.

Board of Regents votes to approve mandatory punishments for students disrupting free speech

The UW System Board of Regents approved a scope statement on controversial punishments for students who disrupted the free speech of others Friday — a step in the direction of amending System administrative rules.  

The rules mandate suspension after two disruptions and expulsion after a third. 

The Board of Regents initially approved the policies in fall 2017, but the vote makes the rules mandatory instead of optional at UW System institutions. 

Now the Board of Regents will draft changes to the official administrative rules based on the approved policy, Regent President Andrew Petersen said. The Regents will come back to the board twice — once for another public hearing and another time for final approval — before sending the changes to Gov. Tony Evers.  

To become state law, the policy needs Evers’ approval. 

However, when Evers was state superintendent, he was the only Regent to vote against the initial approval of the free speech policy back in 2017. He still does not support the policy as of Friday, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

At Friday’s meeting at UW-Superior, a handful of Regents voted against approving the scope statement, including Regent Edmund Manydeeds III, who said potentially punishing young people in such a permanent way is “a very hard road to go down.”

“I really would like us to consider ... whether or not we as citizens should be doing this,” Manydeeds said. “And I'll tell you, as an attorney, I don't think that I can do this given the oath that I've taken.”

The UW System held a public hearing to collect responses on the controversial policy in August. Of the 38 written comments, only one supported the policy — Michigan resident Nancy Suitor, who said the resolution would help protect conservatives and Christians on campus. 

The public hearing comments’ largest concern cited the potential chilling effect the punishments could have on free speech, especially for people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities, who often use protests to spark social change. 

Timothy Yu, UW-Madison professor and member of UW-Madison faculty organization PROFS, expressed his opposition in a statement asking why “protesting against a visiting speaker [is] so disturbing that it requires the harshest punishment mandated by Regents policy.”

“The adjudication of student misconduct should remain where it currently is — at the campus level — so that appropriate action can be taken, rather than mandatory punishments,” Yu’s statement said. “Moreover, these punishments are clearly designed to deter student activists from future protest — a form of punishment that will fall disproportionately on a small group of students.”

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