Is a Campus “Free Speech” Bill in Your Legislature?

The answer is: Extremely likely.

Due to a surge in efforts to chill dissent, undermine academic freedom, and destabilize higher education, over a dozen states currently have a campus “free speech” bill in their state house or senate.

Use this free tool to search for the bill in your state, track its progress, and capture contact information for the legislative committee members reviewing the bill. Simply click on your state, select “Bills” at the top, and type “campus free speech” into the search bar to the right. For committee members, click “Committees” at the top.

Then see the AAUP’s Campus “Free Speech” Toolkit for a phone script, talking points, a primer, and a full report on the issue. With the toolkit, it’s easy to make a quick call or fire off an email to the appropriate legislator.

You’ll be glad you did. Campus speech legislation is an example of legislative interference in the autonomy of universities and colleges. It undermines academic freedom, and chills dissent on campus. This damaging legislation often has some or all of the following characteristics:

  1. Forbids public institutions from disinviting speakers and requires that they remain neutral on “issues of public controversy.”
  2. Establishes mandatory minimum penalties for students or others found to have twice interfered with the free expression of others. Suggested minimum penalties are suspension and expulsion.
  3. Provides that individuals who believe that their free speech has been disrupted or prevented on a public campus may sue the institution to enforce the legislation and can recover court costs and attorney’s fees.
  4. Requires that public institutions create an oversight committee, sometimes called a “Committee on Free Expression,” to oversee the implementation of campus free-speech law and to produce an annual report about the management of free speech on campus.
  5. Requires public institutions to provide training to incoming students, faculty, and staff on their free speech rights under the new law.

Concerned? We all are.

You can make a difference. First, track the bill here.

Then review the AAUP’s Campus Free Speech Toolkit.

Thank you for defending higher education from this unnecessary and speech-chilling legislation.

Monica Owens
Political Organizer, AAUP

P.S. Want to get more involved in defending against campus “free speech” legislation? Click here and an AAUP organizer will get in touch.

Free Speech on Campus: A Solution in Search of a Problem

“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.

Check out our toolkit on free speech on campus on our One Faculty, One Resistance site.

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.

The whole free speech toolkit can be found on our One Faculty, One Resistance website. Click here to explore what you can do on this issue.

Want more? Stay tuned — we’ll be talking more about free speech legislation on our Facebook page on Thursday, April 19 at 1:30 ETRSVP here.

Monica Owens,
Political Organizer, AAUP