How to Enrich Campus Speech and Protect Academic Autonomy

Universities play an important role in our society. Higher education provides college students an opportunity to refine the skills necessary for tackling competing and challenging views as well as discovering how to collaborate with those they disagree with. In the wake of seven states enacting policy to clear the way for students and scholars fostering such an open, intellectual environment, Charles Koch Institute Senior Fellow Casey Mattox issued the following statement:

Campus speech issues have attracted much attention, because they matter—not just in higher ed but to the society that generations of college students will help shape. State policymakers have played an increasingly productive part in removing legal hurdles to free expression. For instance, removing ‘speech zones’ that narrowly limit where expression can occur, clears the way for students to pamphlet, protest, speak, and more robustly engage with each other.

Just this year, seven states have enacted laws securing students’ speech and association. These laws have often passed with strong bipartisan majorities and with the support of the public universities to which they apply. In some cases though, well-intentioned legislation may create unexpected problems, including the Texas bill’s allowance of punishment for “unduly interfer[ing]” with others’ expression without defining when a student’s own protest might “unduly interfere” with another’s expression.

As additional states consider their own measures, they can avoid these pitfalls by focusing on policies that respect and strengthen civil liberties, institutional autonomy, and the independence of individual faculty and students. That precision can be achieved by collaborating with stakeholders who champion these scholarly ideals.

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