Do U.P. universities encourage or diminish free speech?

LANSING, Mich. — New bills in the state senate create penalties for students attempting to stop protests or free speech on Michigan campuses.
ABC10’s Lauren Lee has the story.

Do U.P. universities encourage or diminish free speech?

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This month the senate introduced Bill 349 and 350 known as the “Campus Free Speech Act”.

The Bills state that it is not the role of the college to shield individuals from speech protected by the first amendment without exception, even if the universities find the ideas and opinions expressed unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive.

Disciplinary sanctions would also be implemented for anyone under the jurisdiction of the college who interferes with the free expression of others. A student that is guilty of infringing upon another’s freedom of speech will be suspended for a minimum of a year or expelled.

“Universities are places where we respect and encourage free speech,” Department head of Political Science Carter Wilson said. “But just as this person has a right to speak, this person has a right to respond with speech. This bill protects the right of people to come onto campus and say insulting things, but then it has a chilling effect on people demonstrating, expressing their opposition. Both forms of speech need to be protected and respected.

One Senator who introduced the bill, Senator Patrick Colbeck compares college campuses to the book 1984 claiming they are becoming more and more like the Ministry of Truth.

Colbeck believes this type of political propaganda is becoming the language not only of our universities but our communities at large. The Bills also address campuses allowing open forum to any speaker invited by a member of the university. Recently universities such as UC Berkeley received negative backlash this year for canceling a campus speaker.

“If you bring in a controversial speaker people have a right to express their opposition to that speaker, so long as they are doing it in a legal manner,” Wilson said. “Now what they did out in California is illegal, it’s illegal to break windows, to destroy property. That’s illegal no one supports that, the university condemned that. Then to turn around and say the university somehow doesn’t have a commitment to free speech is just so far from the truth.”

The Foundation of Individual Rights on Campus has categorized Northern Michigan University in the yellow for speech code, claiming the university polices make it easier for administrative abuse.