University of Wisconsin officials may be prevented from punishing students or faculty who express sentiment or ideas that may be troubling or deeply offensive, according to a provision in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-19 state budget.
As the debate over how to meet the balance between protecting freedom of speech and fighting against hate speech continues to permeate college campuses, Walker has proposed $10,000 in funding for the UW System to “review and revise policies related to academic freedom.”
The potential bill came out after months of protest, beginning with the Camp Randall noose incident and election results late last year, along with the inauguration walkout, Women’s March on Madison and “alt-right” demonstration earlier this year.
The bill states it is not the job of an educational institution to censor “unpopular opinions,” but rather to encourage diversity of thought.
In addition to expanding different viewpoints, Walker’s proposal also states people may express distaste toward any opinion, but they are not allowed to intervene in the speaker’s ability to express it despite their opposition toward the idea.
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This inability to intervene has brought concern to UW students like Ali Khan, who serves as the chair for Associated Students of Madison’s Equity & Inclusion Committee. For Khan, he said the bill seemingly attacks people’s right to protest.
“As the head of Equity & Inclusion [Committee], I believe this is not an attempt to allow for more engaging, thoughtful and respectful dialogue but to further normalize hate speech,” Khan said.
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In the same vein, Muslim Student Association and College Democrats member Aisha Moe also expressed concern for the bill and what type of speech it would support.
While Moe said she believes the bill has a valid point in wanting to protect free speech, she is worried certain forms of hate speech may become permissible through this new bill.
“Just as saying fire in a movie theater is not allowed due to the danger it poses on people, saying racist, xenophobic or homophobic [statements are] things that should not be allowed for the very real dangers they can cause,” Moe said.