by Jim Manley
One year ago, the Goldwater Institute unveiled a model bill designed to preserve free speech rights on college campuses. Two states have adopted policies based on the model bill, and almost a dozen legislatures will consider proposals inspired by the model this session. This week, the Institute is expanding the conversation on campus free speech—taking it online and on the road.
RestoreFreeSpeech.com is the Goldwater Institute’s new online home for campus free speech news, collecting information about the Goldwater model and active legislation inspired by it, answers to questions about the model and what it accomplishes, and details about upcoming events. Among the highlights on the website is a new video explaining the importance of protecting free speech on college campuses. As the video explains, free expression is central to the learning process—and if the right to speak freely is taken away from anyone, it can easily be taken away from everyone.
As the new website launches, I’ll be kicking off a nationwide speaking tour about the Goldwater model bill that I helped co-author, starting at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign on January 30. I’ll be debating law Professor Jason Mazzone about the limits of campus free speech and the right approach to protecting it. It’s a fitting place to start the dialogue, since the dean of the University of Illinois College of Law, Vikram Amar, has been a strong advocate of robust—even controversial—dialogue. Amar recognizes that “our system is premised on the notion that the answer to bad speech is more speech”—and that is the message I will be echoing on Tuesday.
The next stop will be Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, on January 31, for a conversation with the campus community about the importance of free expression on campus—and in society at large.
Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin are all considering legislation based on the Goldwater model, and Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wyoming are expected to consider similar legislation soon.
Lawmakers in North Carolina have already passed a comprehensive campus free speech law, modeled on the Goldwater proposal. As a similar bill moves through the legislature in Wisconsin, the Board of Regents there took the initiative to adopt the Goldwater Institute’s model as policy for the UW system.
The policy is already working as intended in Wisconsin. When Second Amendment supporter and conservative author Katie Pavlich spoke at the UW Madison, protestors staged a phallic protest. But demonstrators decided not to disrupt Pavlich’s talk, and specifically attributed their decision to the new “three strikes” discipline policy based on the Goldwater model. Had that policy not been adopted, we would likely have seen another shout-down and another defeat for the free exchange of ideas.
Nowhere is the need for open debate more important than on America’s college campuses. Students maturing from teenagers into adults must be confronted with new ideas, especially ideas with which they disagree, if they are to become informed and responsible members of a free society. Colleges and universities need to recognize the role they play in shaping their students’ openness to ideas and take action to ensure that free expression is protected on their campuses.
While this project is focused on ensuring the free exchange of ideas on college campuses, the principle of civil dialogue is critical in society at large. If we cannot engage with people who disagree with us, violence is the predictable result—like the kind we saw at Middlebury College after Charles Murray was shouted down, or the violence that erupted in Charlottesville this summer after counter-protestors challenged the horrible ideas of the White Nationalists assembled there. We must make violence beyond consideration when we hear ideas or witness expressions with which we disagree, and fight back with better ideas.
I look forward to continuing a conversation with college students, faculty, and speakers about how the preservation of free speech rights for everyone creates more vibrant and respectful campus communities.
Jim Manley is Senior Attorney at the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation