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WI Bill Would Penalize University Administrators for Free-Speech Violations

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Monday, February 28, 2022   

Last week, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill which would strip university and college administrators of their qualified legal immunity in cases where they "violate certain individual expressive rights."

The legislation is in response to alleged discrimination against conservative students and speakers on college campuses.

Rep. Clint Moses, R-Menomonie, one of the measure's lead sponsors, argued campuses should be an open marketplace of ideas.

"As a legislator with a college campus in my district, as well as two other neighboring UW schools, I have heard all too well from students attending those UW campuses that they are fearful to share their thoughts openly on campus," Moses stated.

In written comments, a University of Wisconsin System spokesperson said while UW officials support free speech, removing university administrators' immunity could lead to "frivolous lawsuits or lawsuits of questionable merit." They also say, as a public university, providing legal defense in such a case would be at taxpayer expense.

The measure is the latest in a long line of Republican-authored bills which have sought to attach penalties to free-speech violations on university campuses.

Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, argued in a committee hearing on the bill it would limit universities' ability to intervene in cases where speakers or students voice beliefs that could spur violence against marginalized communities.

"How does this bill not end up giving an undeserved platform to white supremacy and neo-Nazis and fascism?" Larson asked.

The legislation has been passed on to the Senate for further deliberation and consideration. As a partisan bill with exclusively Republican sponsors, it faces a likely veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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