Colleges Shouldn't Punish Student Protestors
Photo courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Archive
by Charles H.F. Davis III, Ph.D.
This month, during a meeting at the University of Wisconsin Stout in Menomonie, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents adopted a systemwide policy that punishes student activists exercising their constitutionally protected right to protest. Specifically, the board adopted language that states students will be suspended if found to have twice engaged in violence or other disorderly conduct -- neither of which have been clearly defined -- that disrupts the free speech of other people. Students will be expelled if found to have done so three times.
The board’s decision, in which only one regent -- state public schools superintendent Tony Evers -- cast a dissenting vote, comes as a pre-emptive and intentional sequel to legislation introduced by Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly this past spring. Although the policy will not go into effect until system leaders write administrative rules and it is subsequently signed off on by the governor and state lawmakers, the decision re-establishes a dangerous precedent at a critical political moment in higher education.