A November 2017 report by Alex Buckingham for Socialist Worker draws attention to the hypocritical policies enacted by college campuses that purport to protect free speech but, in fact, limit students’ free speech rights. In October 2017, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents passed a “Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression” policy that seems to suppress free speech when it comes from the left and promote it when it comes from the right. As a policy designed to protect free speech for all students, it does exactly the opposite. This policy mandates suspension for students who have been found in violation of it two times, and expulsion for students who have been found to have disrupted “the expressive rights of others” three times. The vague wording (“expressive rights of others”) allows for selective enforcement of the rule.
Rather than a defense of free speech, the policy is an attack on it, especially when progressive activists organizing around LGBT, anti-racist, and climate issues attempt to use their free speech rights on campus.
This so-called “protection of free speech” policy originated with the Republican-dominated Wisconsin state assembly, which earlier this year passed a bill calling for punishment of students who actively protest against speakers on campus, including specifically conservative speakers. By silencing students “for the sake of free speech,” they are threatening free speech in general.
Buckhingham’s Socialist Worker report quoted University of Wisconsin student Savion Castro, who said: “When we see the hypocrisy from the same legislators demanding this rule change, but denouncing NFL players taking a knee, we see it’s not about speech, but policing the protest of people of color that dare challenge the status quo.”
Although there is news coverage of student voices being silenced, typically these reports have focused on the alleged benefits of these policies. Articles that address this problem say that policies like those in Wisconsin protect other students from protests that escalate into violence. But often this perspective is used by conservatives, on-campues and beyond them, to limit the First Amendment rights of progressive students.
Source: Alex Buckingham, “Silencing Protest in the Name of Free Speech,” SocialistWorker.org, November 8, 2017, socialistworker.org/2017/11/08/silencing-protest-in-the-name-of-free-speech.
Student Researchers: Alejandro Halili and Stephanie Rickher (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)
Editor’s Note: For previous Project Censored coverage of political forces shaping campus free speech issues, see “Right-Wing Money Promotes Model Legislation to Restrict Free Speech on University Campuses,” story #13 in Censored 2018, https://www.projectcensored.org/13-right-wing-money-promotes-model-legislation-restrict-free-speech-university-campuses/.