Disagreement continues over proposed UW free speech law



(The Center Square) – Republican lawmakers say the new proposal that would punish University of Wisconsin campuses for not respecting free speech and different opinions is necessary because the university simply isn’t doing enough.

The plan for a new law requiring a free speech policy at the had another hearing at the Wisconsin Capitol on Tuesday.

Rep. Amanda Nedweskie, R-Pleasant Prairie, is driving the legislation.

“Across the ideological spectrum, we heard that the administrations talk the talk but don’t walk the walk on campus free speech. We heard that some administrations inequitably or inconsistently apply the rules,” Nedweski said. “It is not surprising that the Universities of Wisconsin do not embrace the penalty portion of this bill. Why would they? The penalties are there to make them accountable.”

Those penalties include a two-year tuition freeze for any UW campus found to violate the university’s free speech policy or campuses found to not be supportive enough of other ideas.

Sen. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, said university regents are working on their own updates to the university’s free speech policies. She said she’s worried a free speech law jumps the gun.

“To the extent that students feel limited in expressing their viewpoint, it is self-censorship or perhaps to a lesser extent the fear of what their peers might think. Neither of which are of course [covered] by the First Amendment,” Roys said. “Learning to express your opinions when it might be unpopular, that’s a muscle that we all need to exercise if we want to if we want to get good at it.”

Roys said she worries about the “heavy hand” of state government “coming down” on the university.

She also didn’t agree with Nedweski’s argument that a lack of conservative speech is driving students away from the Universities of Wisconsin.

Neweski, however, said the public perception of UW schools is not great.

“The perception of the Universities of Wisconsin is a single-ideology-institution is absolutely influencing enrollment whether that perception is fair or not,” Nedweski said. “It’s reflected in the survey, it’s reflected in transfer-out data, and it is reflected in declining enrollment numbers on most UW campuses.”

This is the third time Republicans have tried to draft a new law for free speech on UW campuses. Those efforts have all failed.

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