Red States Defend Free Speech – With Laws Punishing Campus Protest

Don’t speak. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Republican-controlled states are finally standing up to the left’s assault on free speech at America’s colleges and universities — by passing laws that force schools to expel students who engage in forms of protest that lawmakers don’t like. As the New York Times reports:

When the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin wanted to address the issue of free speech on campus last fall, it adopted a three-strikes policy that is the strictest of its kind: Any student found to have disrupted the free expression of others is expelled after a third infraction.


… Wisconsin is not alone. Republican-led state legislatures in Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina have imposed similar policies on public colleges and universities, and bills to establish campus speech guidelines are under consideration in at least seven other legislatures. These efforts, funded in part by big-money Republican donors, are part of a growing and well-organized campaign that has put academia squarely in the cross hairs of the American right.

The policies implemented by Wisconsin, Georgia, and North Carolina borrow from a model developed by the Goldwater Institute, a think tank where the largest funders include the Mercer family (whose myriad efforts to promote free speech have included subsidizing publications that argue banning Muslims from the United States is perfectly constitutional).

The “Goldwater model” instructs universities to:

[C]reate disciplinary sanctions, including expulsion, for students who have been found to have twice interfered with someone’s free expression; to prevent administrators from disinviting speakers, no matter how controversial; and to remain neutral on the controversies of the day.

There are several ironies here. The most obvious is that Republican lawmakers have set about resolving a free speech crisis on campus — in which no public institution was restricting students’ free expression — by passing laws that restrict students’ right to free expression (specifically, the right to express their opinion of a guest speaker while said speaker is still speaking).

Still, the Heckler’s Veto is a thorny problem; one can imagine how a legislator could reconcile the idea that public universities should punish those who attempt to “shut down” others’ speech with a sincere commitment to a free and open discourse.

But Republicans in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Georgia have also passed laws that require their states to discriminate against companies that refuse to do business with Israel, as part of an international boycott. Which is to say: Many of these states’ lawmakers are simultaneously horrified by the possibility that 18-year-old hecklers could stifle conservative dissent on campus — and scandalized by the idea that small business owners could express principled opposition to de facto apartheid-rule in the West Bank without losing their right to bid on public contracts.

It’s almost as though support for “free speech” is not the value motivating conservative complaints about the campus left!

Anyhow, there’s a strong case that “no-platforming” speakers is tactically unwise for the left. But there is also a strong case that spending a great deal of time and column inches spotlighting and condemning the campus left’s excesses is tactically unwise for liberals, as doing so aids and abets an illiberal political movement’s decades-long campaign to slash funding for higher education, and undermine the popular legitimacy of academic expertise.

Red States Defend Free Speech With Laws Punishing Protesters