By Alex Meyer
In late June of this year, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed the “Campus Free Speech Act”. The bill, which threatens students who disrupt or protest campus speakers with suspension or even expulsion, received no Democratic support and was hailed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker for its “commitment to free speech”.
The measure targets students whose conduct “materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others”. It has been triggered in part by the recent protest at the University of Wisconsin, Madison over conservative speaker and former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro. UW has had similar protests over the years, and the city is no stranger to activism. The Republican-sponsored bill aims to prevent such disruptions through harsh mandatory punishments for protesters.
Opponents of the bill, such as Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), have decried it as a gag order for free speech. Others have also criticized the measure for being overly vague, leaving the specific definition of “disrupting” uncertain and thus opening the door for exploitation. Taylor explained her worry over the bill’s language in an interview with UW’s student paper:
“What does ‘interfere with’ mean? Is it calling out? Is it saying, ‘No, I don’t agree with you’? If you do that twice, you could be suspended,”
The bill currently awaits judgment by the Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges. Gov. Walker has indicated he will sign it should it reach his desk