Students

The States Where Campus Free-Speech Bills Are Being Born: A Rundown

May 15, 2017

Updated (5/15/2017, 4:57 p.m.) with information on legislation under consideration in Louisiana.

A wave of proposed legislation on campus free speech is making its way through statehouses across the nation. Last week Tennessee’s governor, Bill Haslam, signed into law a measure that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called “the most comprehensive state legislation protecting free speech on college campuses that we’ve seen passed anywhere in the country.”

That new law, among other things, bars public colleges from establishing “free-speech zones” and requires them to adopt broad statements of support for free expression. Read more about the new law.

The new crop of bills is broadly based on a model designed by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank. The American Association of University Professors said in a statement on Thursday that it opposes any legislation “that interferes with the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities by undermining the role of faculty, administration, and governing board in institutional decision-making and the role of students in the formulation and application of institutional policies affecting student affairs.”

Here’s a rundown of similar measures across the country that The Chronicle could find, and where they stand. Did we miss one? Send it to chris.quintana@chronicle.com.

California

A lawmaker this month introduced a bill that would prevent people on “California’s college campuses” from disinviting speakers and would remove existing free-speech codes. It is very similar to the Wisconsin bill (see below).

Colorado

The state’s governor signed into law in April a measure that bars free-speech zones on public campuses throughout the state. According to The Denver Post, the University of Colorado system voiced opposition to an early version of the bill, but eventually supported it.

Illinois

The Illinois House of Representatives is considering a bill that would require public colleges and universities to suspend or expel students who twice infringe on the “expressive rights” of others. It was introduced in February.

Louisiana

The Louisiana House of Representatives is considering a bill that would require the Board of Regents to create a committee on free expression and a freshman orientation focused on free-speech issues. Those who violate free-speech policies twice would face expulsion or suspension. Violators could also be open to legal action.

Michigan

Lawmakers this month introduced a bill in the state’s Senate that would require public universities and colleges to punish students who twice prevent others from speaking on a campus.

North Carolina

Lawmakers are considering a measure very similar to the one in Wisconsin (see below). The legislation is intended to “ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.” The bill cleared the North Carolina House of Representatives and is now bound for the State Senate.

Texas

The Texas Senate approved a bill last week that bars “free-speech zones” on public campuses.

Utah

The governor signed a bill in March that outlines a free-speech policy and states that those who violate it can face legal action, including fines.

Virginia

Lawmakers approved and the governor signed into law a measure that states: “No public institution of higher education shall abridge the constitutional freedom of any individual, including enrolled students, faculty, and other employees and invited guests to speak on campus.”

The law does not have the prescriptive provisions featured in bills modeled on the Goldwater legislation.

Wisconsin

A bill modeled on the Goldwater Institute’s proposal would prohibit students at public colleges from interfering with the free-speech rights of others, and would require an orientation on free-speech issues for freshmen, among other things.

Critics said at a public hearing last week that the bill contains unnecessary provisions that actually would infringe on the rights of students.

Chris Quintana is a breaking-news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @cquintanadc or email him at chris.quintana@chronicle.com. Andy Thomason oversees breaking-news coverage. Send him a tip at andy.thomason@chronicle.com. And follow him on Twitter @arthomason.