Three Strikes and You’re Out! A Petition to Protect Free Speech on the UWEC Campus

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On October 6, 2017, the UW System’s Board of Regents approved the creation of Regent Policy Document 4-21, “Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression,” to re-affirm its support of these values and to lay out “expectations for those who violate these freedoms.” The policy establishes mandatory procedures and penalties for disciplining students who are determined to have “engaged in violent or other disorderly misconduct that materially and substantially disrupted the free expression of others.” Specifically, after receiving two formal complaints against a student, “a formal investigation and disciplinary hearing is required.” An automatic suspension takes effect for “any student who has twice been found responsible for misconduct that materially and substantially disrupted the free expression of others,” and an automatic expulsion takes effect for a third offense. 

The Problems

1) What counts as misconduct is not defined.

2) The process works upon a complaint system, where any student can file a complaint against another. 

3) The penalty is unusually severe: it is “three-strikes-you’re-out” 

The Unintended Consequences

1) The policy gives students an academic weapon of mass destruction. Because it works on the complaint system and imposes harsh penalties, it turns students against each other and has the potential to escalate conflicts between students. Rather than settle disagreements civilly, this policy encourages students to appeal to higher authorities to crack down on ideologies they disagree with.

2) The policy may stifle free expression, rather encourage it. Since it is never clear when someone’s behavior “materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others,” it may make students afraid to ask questions or speak up in class. 

This policy has good intentions but could unintentionally cause more problems than it will prevent. To protect the right of free expression on the UWEC campus, we petition to UW System Board of Regents to repeal this policy and allow Student Government leaders to develop their own policy for protecting free speech on campus.

 



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