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GOP Lawmakers Propose New Free Speech Rules For UW System Schools

Bill Would Penalize 'Boisterous,' 'Unreasonably Loud' Protest Behavior At Campus Events

Robin Vos
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Shawn Johnson/WPR

Students who disrupt campus events at University of Wisconsin System schools could be expelled under a bill proposed by Republican state lawmakers.

The proposed legislation would set new rules for free speech and expression on University of Wisconsin System campuses. That includes penalties for people who disrupt free expression on campus by engaging in “violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud or other disorderly conduct.”

“The worst part of it is this incredible litany of categories, most of which, as I say, are clearly unconstitutionally vague or imprecise or undefined,” said Robert O’Neil, professor emeritus of law at the University of Virginia, where he specialized in the First Amendment law.

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O’Neil is also a former University of Wisconsin System president.

Supporters argue the bill will help encourage a more politically diverse roster of speakers on campuses.

“The goal is to have the maximum amount of free speech that we possibly can without regard to one side of the political equation or the other so that the students who are paying for the opportunity get to hear from all viewpoints get to make up their own mind,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

The bill also requires that the university “remain neutral on public policy controversies.”

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