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What We’re Reading: March 2020

This month’s reads include a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill report on the state of free expression on that campus. The report provides valuable data on student interest in constructive dialogue as well as the willingness of a significant minority of students to block speakers and socially distance themselves from those with different political views. By addressing such issues, college leaders across the country can reassure the public, students, parents, and lawmakers about their leadership on free expression and forestall government efforts to regulate campus discourse. This month’s reads also include proposed state legislation and responses to federal rulemaking on campus free expression.

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Campus Happenings

GU Removes Offensive Books from Reynolds, McCarthy Libraries
Kelly Anderson | The Hoya | February 7, 2020

“Shelves of books in the Reynolds and McCarthy libraries featuring racist and sexist content were removed by university officials last week after students reported the books to Georgetown University Residential Living staff.” The libraries from which the books were removed are stocked from donations, with no formal checkout or cataloguing system in place.

BERT Leaders Detail Provost Review Process, Meeting with Kyle Harper
Bailey Lewis | OU Daily | March 1, 2020

A three-day sit-in at Oklahoma University, led by student group Black Emergency Response Team, has ended after a meeting with administrators. The meeting included Provost Kyle Harper, who refused BERT’s demands to resign, and resulted in the establishment of a student advisory group and a review of university leadership. The protests began after two professors used a racial slur in their classes. One professor teaches journalism and has since apologized and stepped down from teaching his capstone course for the remainder of the semester. The other professor, who teaches history, was reading from a historical text and gave a trigger warning beforehand.

Proposed Policy Could Limit Faculty Speech
Daniel Payne | Daily Mississippian | March 1, 2020

At the University of Mississippi, “A newly proposed university policy on faculty communications, if approved, would change how faculty and staff use social media and speak with media outlets. Faculty members are now expressing concern about how the new policy could limit free speech at UM.”

State and Federal Policies

Wisconsin Assembly Passes Bill That Would Punish Protesters Who Disrupt Campus Speeches
Marti Mikkelson | | February 11, 2020

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 444 passed the state legislature’s lower chamber 62 to 37. The bill requires the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System to adopt a policy of free expression that includes disciplinary sanctions for a student who “materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others.” Under the bill, third-time offenders face expulsion. Companion legislation, Senate Bill 403, has been read once in the Senate and been recommended for passage by the Committee on Universities, Technical Colleges, Children, and Families. Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) is widely expected to veto the measure, should it pass the Senate.

Lawmaker’s Bill Aims to Guard Free Speech at Arizona Universities. Critics Decry Censoring.
Helena Wegner | The Arizona Republic | February 17, 2020

Arizona House Bill 2238 has passed the state legislature’s lower chamber 31 to 28, with one abstention. The bill requires the Arizona Board of Regents to create an “Office of Public Policy Events” at each university in the system to oversee the staging of events featuring “multiple, divergent and opposing perspectives,” and to store recordings of those events for at least five years. The bill has received two readings in the state Senate.

Public Comments
Numerous | | Before February 18, 2020

The public comment period for the Department of Education’s proposed rulemaking regarding the “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities” executive order ended February 18, 2020. The department received 17,758 comments, including a joint comment from the Association of American Universities and the American Council on Education on behalf of 24 other higher education organizations, the ACLU, the Association for Public and Land-grant Universities, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and Speech First, Inc.

Op-eds and Thought Pieces

Chapel Welcomes Minority Speakers, But Do Students?
Meg Peck | Baylor Lariat | February 13, 2020

A senior at Baylor University reflects on two heckled speeches held in the Baylor Chapel: “On its website, Chapel states that it seeks to provide worship and to engage important issues which, at times, can be uncomfortable, but that is no excuse for microaggressions to occur. Disagreeing with a speaker is one thing, but heckling them during their talk is another.”

When Diversity and Inclusion Clash with Free Speech—And Why They Don’t Have To
Jonathan Friedman | Higher Ed Connects | February 15, 2020

On the ideals of free speech and inclusion: “It is possible to reframe this conflict, and examine how the liberal values of free speech, non-discrimination, and inclusion can be mutually reinforcing, rather than at odds with one another.” The author suggests policy approaches to hateful speech, bias incidents, and inclusive language guidelines that respect free speech principles while honoring commitments to diversity and inclusion.

Conservative Faculty Appear to Influence Their Students More than Liberal Professors Do
Alyssa N. Rockenbach et al. | Washington Post | March 2, 2020

The authors discuss results of a study of 3,486 students on over 100 campuses. “Although many commentators worry that professors are pushing their agenda on students, the vast majority of students—90 percent—say they do not feel pressure to shift their views to align with those of their instructors. Whether they feel pressure depends in part on their chosen course of study.”

Big Reads

Free Expression and Constructive Dialogue at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Jennifer Larson et al. | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill | March 2, 2020

The authors offer findings from their year-long investigation of UNC undergraduates’ campus experiences of political expression. The report offers 12 principal findings, including that “students across the political spectrum want more opportunities to engage with those who think differently,” and that “the current campus climate does not consistently promote free expression and constructive dialogue across the political spectrum.”

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