There is no small irony in the fact that a measure passed ostensibly to protect free speech has the primary function of threatening students who choose to protest. In the words of the Board of Regents, violent or disorderly conduct that disrupts others’ free speech is grounds for suspension after two incidents or expulsion after three.
I have no idea if the Board of Regents sees this — insofar as they will comment on it — as somehow distinct from banning protesting altogether. But let’s be frank here, that’s essentially what the measure is. Addressing violence? Sure, fine, although I seriously doubt this university, over 150 years old and with more than a few campus riots after it was founded, does not already have procedures in place for handling violent student conduct.
But disorderly conduct? The phrase is so broad it could mean anything. Chanting could be disorderly conduct. Holding up a sign that blocks someone’s view could be disorderly conduct. The ways in which this policy could be abused to stifle organized dissent are glaringly obvious. It is nothing but leverage for an administration that is more concerned with avoiding national news coverage or giving far-right speakers a public platform than actually protecting free speech.
Proposed bill would penalize faculty members who impede free speechState legislators introduced another bill Tuesday that would penalize University of Wisconsin System faculty and staff who interrupt speeches on campus. Read…
The simple fact is, most protests will involve conduct that could be classified as disorderly because, well, they’re not mock trial rebuttals. They’re protests. UW can posture all it wants about a civil exchange of ideas, but when it allows speakers like Ben Shapiro — who, among countless other things, defended a video depicting First Nation’s People as savages — on campus it cannot act shocked when students speak up, and speak up loudly.
So, toss us out of the lecture hall. Charge admission. Bring more security. But don’t feed us the free speech line and then threaten the futures of people who dared to speak up about something they think is morally repugnant. Doing so is as cowardly as it is self-serving.
The students of this campus will not be cowed. Badgers have been protesting long before we got here, and with any luck they’ll be protesting long after we’re gone. The Board of Regents can make it harder, but they can never stop it. Best they don’t try at all.
Samuel Palmer ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in biology.