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Wisconsin Speech Bill Might Allow Students To Challenge Science Professors (arstechnica.com) 438

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: There have been some well-publicized incidents in which student groups or other protesters have interfered with scheduled appearances by right-wing speakers at U.S. universities. In response, a number of states have considered "campus free speech" bills based on model legislation produced by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank. Different bills introduce specific penalties for students who shout down the speech of others and prevent college administrators from disinviting speakers, to give two examples. One such bill is being debated in Wisconsin. Faculty and university officials in the state are concerned about what else might be prevented by the bill's overly vague language, according to the local Cap Times. As often happens with bills relevant to science education, the debate has also elicited some rather bizarre comments from the bill's sponsors. The trouble comes from this section of the bill: "That each institution shall strive to remain neutral, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day, and may not take action, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day in such a way as to require students or faculty to publicly express a given view of social policy." While the bills' scope is focused on public events involving invited speakers, there are a couple key questions here. University officials want to know how far this requirement "to remain neutral" extends. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has spoken out against proposed bans on stem cell research on campus. Would the university run afoul of this law if it did so again?
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Wisconsin Speech Bill Might Allow Students To Challenge Science Professors

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  • While I agree with the motivation for discouraging universities from disinviting invited speakers, penalizing the practice may discourage universities from inviting even potentially controversial speakers in the first place, and so the effect of the law might be the exact opposite of what is intended: allowing a diversity of opinions and ideas to be expressed.
    • by mvdwege ( 243851 )

      While I agree with the motivation for discouraging universities from disinviting invited speakers,

      Why would you disagree with that? Since when do Universities get exempted from the First Amendment? Note that that also has some things to say about the government's right to interfere with who you associate with.

      • While I agree with the motivation for discouraging universities from disinviting invited speakers,

        Why would you disagree with that? Since when do Universities get exempted from the First Amendment? Note that that also has some things to say about the government's right to interfere with who you associate with.

        I think we're talking about public universities here, so they are primarily funded by the government. I do think governments should keep an arm's length, as universities are traditionally bastions of free speech, but if government funded universities become too lopsided, allowing only one ideology to be promoted, I can see why government might want to intervene in some way. But my original post is arguing that this could do more harm than good.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      Speakers tend to be invited by students. The bill is likely intended to make sure folks like Alex Jones are not blocked by administration. The problem will be when some smart ass student forms a group and books an atheist who thinks that Jebus is the inherent force of evil.

      Right now the radical right is the ones doing the screaming, but in my experience college administration usually just tries to control the smart ass students who want to do publicity stunts, left or right.

      • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Tuesday June 13, 2017 @03:09AM (#54607665) Homepage Journal

        "Right now the radical right is the ones doing the screaming,"

        You should watch some videos from Berkeley, when Milo Yiannopoulos was to give a speech.
        Nope, it wasn't the radical rights screaming, using fists, and setting the campus on fire.

        I'd say some publicity stunts like some nutcases giving a speech to an empty lecture hall is a small price for stopping that sort of behavior.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        Right now the radical right is the ones doing the screaming

        Sorry that's the left in berkely. [zombietime.com] Same with the bike lock attacker [eastbaytimes.com] Nice collection of weapons pulled off antifa members who were looking to attack people at pro-trump/free speech rally. [officer.com] And I can really keep going, because there's not only dozens of cases like this but hundreds in the last 2 years.

        Antifa are leftists of marxist/mao kind. BAMN are of the same kind, you also need to toss in their little cult camps. And people on the right didn't start responding until the left started going "OH NO, they'r

        • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <(ten.knilhtrae) (ta) (reesdnilb)> on Tuesday June 13, 2017 @04:37PM (#54612115)

          Nice collection of weapons pulled off antifa members who were looking to attack people at pro-trump/free speech rally. http://www.officer.com/news/12... [officer.com]

          Holy shit!! I think I saw the rusty hatchet stolen from my shed in there. Any chance I can get it back?

          And what the hell is that at the bottom of the image? Is that a a gate hinge bolted to a shin guard? That's gotta hurt.

          This also demonstrates that no government can disarm the public, people will improvise. You can take their guns and knives but then they'll just fashion their own. Part of the reason why the speakers and attendees to these speeches get their ass kicked so often is that the venue is "weapons free" but the area to and from is not. The police disarmed one group but not the other. Would these hooligans be so bold to bring a sack full of bricks if they thought the attendees might shoot back?

          I know someone is thinking, "but at least the hooligans didn't have a gun." What makes you think the hooligans could buy a gun? These students are likely often high on drugs (prescribed or not), likely with previous criminal records, or a protection order out on them. They couldn't pass a background check to buy a firearm.

          Another common reply to my comment, "Do you really think it justified to use a gun against someone swinging a sack of bricks?" Yes. Wait, let me make myself clear... HELL YES!! Swinging a sack of bricks, putting a plastic bag over someone's head, hitting them with a pipe wrench, or a bike lock, is deadly force. Deadly force should be met with deadly force. That includes the use of a firearm in defense of lives.

      • by guises ( 2423402 )
        That's a good point. A university isn't just about research and classes, the school is to some degree there to help people who are young and dumb grow into people who are less dumb. And that sometimes means stopping them when they do something stupid, including when they invite someone to the school who preys on the gullible. Saying, "Yes I'm a con artist, but I'm a political con artist so you can't touch me." should not be a defense.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      It's sad that it had to come to this. I do think that universities carry most of the blame for the current situation, given their lack of action against the disruption of classes and events. From the get go, their stance should have been that there can be only one answer to students who persist in denying the free exchange of ideas on campus: expulsion. And if universities are unwilling or unable to guarantee freedom to exchange ideas, then it's good that the government steps in.

      This bill penalises unive
    • by ranton ( 36917 )

      While I agree with the motivation for discouraging universities from disinviting invited speakers, penalizing the practice may discourage universities from inviting even potentially controversial speakers in the first place, and so the effect of the law might be the exact opposite of what is intended: allowing a diversity of opinions and ideas to be expressed.

      That wouldn't affect the intent of the law at all. In fact it would only enhance it. The intention of the law is to rile up the political right base and give them justifications for why they need to be in power. If colleges stop inviting controversial speakers it is just another thing to add to their stump speeches.

  • How dare you (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zaelath ( 2588189 ) on Monday June 12, 2017 @11:49PM (#54607151)

    impinge on my right to free speech by using yours!

    How can this possibly get past the SCOTUS?

    As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis advised, in his famous Whitney v. California opinion in 1927, "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."

  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Tuesday June 13, 2017 @12:00AM (#54607187)

    I was that kind of nerd in class that would read the whole book at the start of the semester, then just sort of enjoy asking leading questions during the year, perhaps once or twice per class period. As long as it was a fair exploration of the topic, ~90% of teachers enjoyed the light challenge - especially the history teachers. I enjoyed finding out where I was wrong, or some detail that connected the subjects we were covering in some larger way.

    There were also more religiously reactive students who would play the special-pleading game, trying to weaponize their belief lest others learn to believe in any other way. The answer there is usually increasing degrees of "you might very well be correct, and if you can find an international standards body recognized completely outside of your religious organization in [insert field], I'd suggest you contact [organization who sets school policy], and get the curriculus updated. Until then, this is what's going to be on the test."

    I can't see that changing much, and if students decide to raise a stink, it would be fair for a teacher to offer to let the student test out of the class immediately, giving them the remaining homework/tests in one lump, and saving everyone a bit of time, since the student is unwilling to learn directly from the teacher.

    Ryan Fenton

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by grasshoppa ( 657393 )

      I can't see that changing much, and if students decide to raise a stink, it would be fair for a teacher to offer to let the student test out of the class immediately, giving them the remaining homework/tests in one lump, and saving everyone a bit of time, since the student is unwilling to learn directly from the teacher.

      Have you even *been* on college campuses today? The term "inmates are in charge of the asylum" is frighteningly accurate. Students only need claim professors and/or curriculum "triggered"

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Have you even *been* on college campuses today? The term "inmates are in charge of the asylum" is frighteningly accurate. Students only need claim professors and/or curriculum "triggered" them via a series of "micro aggressions" and BAM! Headache for one and all. Well, not the students, who may retire to a "safe space", complete with crayons and comfy chairs..

        Yes.

        I've never seen that happen. Ever.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Is this actually true? I don't live in the US but when I survey US media for information about this I see a few isolated cases with incomplete information that is hard to judge, and a lot of alt-right blogs screaming about it as if it's some kind of epidemic.

        Are teaching staff getting fired or sanctioned en-masse due to student complaints? Is there any reliable evidence for this? I don't mean links to a few stories or blogs, I mean evidence of it happening regularly to large numbers of staff.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        feminist dogma like the wage gap

        Far worse than any censorship that takes places is people like you trying to poison the well. It makes debate almost impossible, both because listeners become prejudiced against ideas they are told are dogmatic and because it often forces the people debating to address all these random issues rather than the one at hand.

  • by slashdot_commentator ( 444053 ) on Tuesday June 13, 2017 @12:02AM (#54607189) Journal

    ... aren't students shelling out thousands of dollars in (science) education to be taught conventionally accepted knowledge by an expert in the scientific discipline's field? What would the bill accomplish besides having unqualified nincompoops devaluing the quality of education? There is a standard of conventional knowledge and research competence demonstrated by every PhD. Undergrads and outsiders have no business contesting facts in the science curriculum. Any legislator that votes for such a bill should be impeached. You may as well shutdown the university at that point; it will cease to be a credible, accredited undergraduate facility.

    • At a university level, I hope a teacher is competent enough in the subject they are teacher to handle any challenge and show why said individual is wrong. Hell, that happened all the time in my science classes. Not just science either, all of them. Ethics discussions were awesome, so much so I took two versions of it. At a university you're not just there to memorize stuff, you're their to develop a good methodology to thought itself. If you're just unquestioningly accepting everything a teacher tells you,
      • by Jzanu ( 668651 )
        Did the US suddenly switch to a taxpayer funded university education? If not, then you face backlash from service disruption, especially as those in class are paying a LOT to be there. They would be justified purely on time basis too, but the direct money paid for service is easier for courts to address when the service is denied for any reason.
        • Nothing suddenly about it. Oh eventually most students pay the taxpayers back but very few students (or their families) are paying their own way, Grants, scholarships and Tax Deferred Student Loans are paying for the education. The loans are the biggest source of payment and they allow schools to charge ever increasing tuitions, knowing that the students will just take out more and bigger loans without care about how they are going to pay for them. (Then they spend the next twenty years griping about pay
    • Yes, you're right. The point is that there have been certain libertarian organizations pushing states to adopt "free speech laws" on public university campuses recently. The worrisome thing isn't the promotion of "free speech" (which obviously should be protected) -- it's that many of the libertarian groups lobbying for this as well as the state legislators proposing the bills don't actually realize the language they're writing is overly broad and could lead to all sorts of strange side effects, like whet
  • by Jzanu ( 668651 ) on Tuesday June 13, 2017 @12:08AM (#54607213)
    This is what religious theocracies do to enforce orthodoxy. What else is the result of subjecting education to a litmus test of belief? Nothing. Yet another sign of the failure of the US as a modern nation. It's successor can join Turkey as heir to a failed empire.
    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      Guess that explains why so many universities in Europe have no-platforming plans, and block speakers for not having the right kind of thoughts. You know the feminist who doesn't have the right view on feminism. The gay man who doesn't have the right view on homosexuality. And it all started because they wanted to block "extremist speakers" instead of letting them have the stage and being proven otherwise.

  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Tuesday June 13, 2017 @12:15AM (#54607239)
    Are religious schools exempted by this bill? What will happen if students start interrupting teachers with questions like: "But Jesus doesn't exist (and that's a fact), so why is this true?"
    • Jesus does exist, and just because he comes from Mexico and is only a gardener doesn't mean you shouldn't learn how to properly pronounce his name, damn racist!

  • Coming (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Tuesday June 13, 2017 @12:38AM (#54607327) Journal

    Math professor: You didn't solve that partial differential equation.

    Conservative snowflake: I did too, libtard.

    Wisconsin Republicans: Teach the controversy.

  • every college in the state would lose accreditation if they did.
    challenge a prof in class with BS - FAIL.
    if it ever went to court it would be a disaster. If a school loses it's accreditation every degree it's granted is in question.

    stupid laws, written by stupid people
  • So, in order to stop students (non-government) from 'stopping' (by that they mean speaking up so loudly the other side gives up), others from speaking, they want to prevent the schools from speaking their own mind.

    All in the name of the "Free Speech". Yes, that sounds just about right for the Republican Party.

    Students have the right to say anything they want and the school has the SAME right (unless it is a state school, then the state could determine what they say, as long as they don't interfere with wha

  • Accept funds from the US gov?
    Let people invite the speakers they want, enjoy the topics covered, then ask questions.
  • by ogdenk ( 712300 ) on Tuesday June 13, 2017 @03:01AM (#54607633)

    This is just another lame attempt to allow people to squeeze "creation science" into courses at universities that receive public funds by saying that certain instructors can spout their personal "beliefs" as fact. To these people "evolution" and having your kids vaccinated are "controversial". I agree that people shouldn't be able to shut people like Milo down but this bill is utter bullshit.

  • Anyone should be able to challenge a Science professor. Since they are taking science the challenge should be dismissed straight away if it isn't in scientific terms. If someone want's to ask "how do we know that carbon dating is accurate?", or "could the rate of radio-active decay change with time" then that's fine?. It's the repeated disruptive claiming of disproven facts that should be prevented.
  • That you would need a bill to allow anyone to challenge science is fucking ridiculous.

Keep up the good work! But please don't ask me to help.

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