“Campus free-speech” legislation, increasingly prevalent in state legislatures, is a solution in search of a problem. Threats to free speech on campus have received outsized media attention in relation to issues with more widespread incidence and deleterious effects, such as diminished public funding of higher education, the adjunctification of the faculty, and a student debt crisis. One thing is clear: bills purporting to protect free speech on campus have become a popular method for legislatures to interfere with and undermine the institutional autonomy of public colleges and universities.
This week, we’re taking a look at the drivers of the current environment of legislative interference on campuses, and giving you tools to help you stay informed and active.
A little background: the most prevalent campus free-speech legislation being introduced in state legislatures today is drafted from model bills produced by the right-wing think tank the Goldwater Institute. Goldwater-inspired legislation allows individuals to sue an institution if they feel their free-speech rights have been impinged upon on campus and calls for strict disciplinary penalties, such as expulsion or suspension for up to one year for students who are found to have interfered with free expression. While ostensibly meant to protect speech, this approach creates a litigious atmosphere that could cause administrations to become overly cautious, suppressing dissenting voices out of fear of being sued. And the harsh penalties would have serious repercussions for students, in some cases making punishments for interrupting a speaker more severe than those for more serious offenses.
The AAUP, along with other academic groups, has long held that academic administration should be in the hands of academics. Where there are legitimate threats to free speech on campus, they are best addressed by campus administration and faculty–not through the imposition of statewide legislative measures.
Here’s what you can do:
We’ve created a one-page fact sheet to get you up to date on the issue. We’ve also pulled together some effective, easy actions you can take to ensure that heavy-handed legislation doesn’t impinge on your rights on campus. Want to talk to colleagues about this issue? We’ve got some talking points to help guide your discussion and your activism.
Want more? Stay tuned — we’ll be talking more about free speech legislation on our Facebook page on Thursday, April 19 at 1:30 ET. RSVP here.
Political Organizer, AAUP