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US Campuses Debate Limits of Free Speech

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2017, photo, a fire set by demonstrators protesting a scheduled speaking appearance by Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos burns on Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus.
FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2017, photo, a fire set by demonstrators protesting a scheduled speaking appearance by Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos burns on Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus.

Conservative writer Heather Mac Donald, invited to Claremont McKenna College to speak about law enforcement policy in black neighborhoods, addressed an auditorium of less than 20.

Outside the hall, throngs of angry students stood against the door, chanting and linking arms, refusing to let anyone in to hear her speak. With access to the talk blocked, organizers livestreamed her event. Afterward, she slipped out a back door with police escort.

Milo Yiannopoulos speaks to a group protesting against CUNY’s decision to allow Linda Sarsour, a liberal Palestinian-American political activist, to speak at commencement in New York, May 25, 2017.
Milo Yiannopoulos speaks to a group protesting against CUNY’s decision to allow Linda Sarsour, a liberal Palestinian-American political activist, to speak at commencement in New York, May 25, 2017.

At the University of California-Berkeley, a planned speech by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos resulted in broken windows. At Middlebury College, the controversial social scientist Charles Murray was hounded by students as he left his talk early.

And at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in February, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro was interrupted by dozens of students yelling “shame,” as he gave a lecture about safe spaces, free speech and political correctness.

Ben Shapiro attends Politicon at The Pasadena Convention Center, Aug. 30, 2017, in Pasadena, California.
Ben Shapiro attends Politicon at The Pasadena Convention Center, Aug. 30, 2017, in Pasadena, California.

U.S. college campuses have long been a place for debate and public demonstrations, and some worry the push by students to shut down speakers they disagree with is a setback for the free speech protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution.

A legislator in Wisconsin has responded by introducing a bill to punish people who try to shut down these events.

The Campus Free Speech Act would require University of Wisconsin campuses to suspend and expel students who interrupt invited speakers. Representative Jesse Kremer, a Republican and the bill's author, says hecklers should not be allowed to usurp speakers.

“Repeatedly, we've seen students shouted down and silenced by those in disagreement,” Kremer said in a statement. This bill “will end the unconstitutional heckler’s ‘veto’ and create a behavioral shift on campus.”

Rep. Jesse Kremer, left, speaks as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos listens at a news conference focused on targeting fraud in Wisconsin's food stamp program. Nov. 3, 2015, in Madison, Wisconsin.
Rep. Jesse Kremer, left, speaks as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos listens at a news conference focused on targeting fraud in Wisconsin's food stamp program. Nov. 3, 2015, in Madison, Wisconsin.

If voted into law, students would face discipline for taking part in demonstrations that “interfere with the rights of others to engage in or listen” to invited speakers. The bill outlines interferences including, “violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud or disorderly conduct.” A third violation would be grounds for expulsion.

But some legal observers say the proposed bill itself runs afoul of constitutional protections.

“The language in the bill that says a student can be penalized for boisterous conduct … is too broad to meet constitutional muster,” said Lata Nott, executive director of the First Amendment Center at the Newseum Institute in Washington.

John Behling, UW System Board of Regents president, lauded the new legislation as a way to protect speakers like Shapiro. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who appointed Behling, also voiced support for the bill.

The “Board of Regents strongly believe in the freedom of expression, and we want to do more to ensure every voice is heard,” Behling said in a statement.

Critics argue that the bill will end up stifling free speech on campus.

“It amazes me that Wisconsin Republicans can support a bill aimed at protecting free speech by limiting free speech,” said state Rep. David Crowley, a Democrat from Milwaukee. The bill is “aimed at limiting exposure to different opinions and creating extreme, unwarranted and unnecessary punishments for exercising your right to protest.”

“When you try to protect free expression by limiting free expression, I think the result would be less free expression for everybody,” Nott said.

She said she would advise Walker to not sign the bill.

Republicans defended the bill, drawing a distinction between disruptive behavior and first amendment-protected protest, which they said would not be banned.

The bill is modeled on legislation drafted by the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, a right-wing think-tank named after Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona who died in 1998.

Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Utah have similar laws already on the books curbing campus speech. A number of states are considering similar bills, including Illinois, Michigan, Texas and California.

"The bill is designed to prevent the sorts of belligerent, violent protests we've seen on some college campuses, including Wisconsin," said Jim Manley, a senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute.

He said the legislation strengthens the First Amendment rights of protesters because it does not allow cities or universities to designate specific “free speech zones.”

“The bill is designed to protect free expression broadly for both protesters and invited speakers,” Manley said.

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2017, photo, University of California, Berkeley police guard the building where Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos was to speak in Berkeley.
FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2017, photo, University of California, Berkeley police guard the building where Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos was to speak in Berkeley.

“Disrupting free speech is unconstitutional,” Republican Rep. Dave Murphy said on the assembly floor. “Disruption is not speech. Disruption isn't protest. Disruption is theft. Theft of another person's right to speak and be heard.”

An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported who invited MacDonald to speak. Claremont McKenna College's research institutes, the Rose Institute and the Salvatori Center, invited MacDonald.

Should free speech on campus be regulated? Please share your suggestion in the Comments here, and visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, thanks!

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Students learn protests can affect job prospects

FILE - Students protesting against the war in Gaza, and passersby walking through Harvard Yard, are seen at an encampment at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on April 25, 2024.
FILE - Students protesting against the war in Gaza, and passersby walking through Harvard Yard, are seen at an encampment at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on April 25, 2024.

Some students in the U.S. are learning their public stances on the Israel-Hamas war are having an impact on job prospects.

Financial Times reports that protest activities are turning up in background checks, and employers have revoked employment offers to students as a result. (June 2024)

UCLA names new chancellor as campus is still reeling from protests over Israel-Hamas war

Dr. Julio Frenk, the next chancellor of UCLA, listens to questions at a news conference, June 12, 2024, in Los Angeles.
Dr. Julio Frenk, the next chancellor of UCLA, listens to questions at a news conference, June 12, 2024, in Los Angeles.

The president of the University of Miami was chosen Wednesday to become the next chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, where the retiring incumbent leaves a campus roiled by protests over Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.

Dr. Julio Frenk, a Mexico City-born global public health researcher, was selected by regents of the University of California system at a meeting on the UCLA campus, where there were a swarm of security officers.

Frenk will succeed Gene Block, who has been chancellor for 17 years and announced his planned retirement long before UCLA became a national flashpoint for U.S. campus protests. This spring, pro-Palestinian encampments were built and cleared by police with many arrests, and again this week, there were more arrests.

Frenk has led the 17,000-student University of Miami since 2015 and previously served as dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and as Mexico's national health secretary, among other positions.

In a brief press conference, Frenk said he was approaching the appointment with excitement and humility.

"The first thing I plan to do is listen very carefully," Frenk said. "This is a complex organization. It is, as I mentioned, a really consequential moment in the history of higher education."

Frenk did not comment on specific protests at UCLA this spring or the current administration's response, which initially tolerated an encampment but ultimately used police to clear it and keep new camps from forming.

During public comment in the regents meeting, speakers criticized UC administrators, alleged police brutality, complained of a lack of transparency in UC endowments and called for divestment from companies with ties to Israel or in weapons manufacturing.

Speakers also talked about experiencing antisemitism on campus and called for an increased law enforcement response to protesters.

Later, about 200 people rallied, including members of an academic student workers union and the Faculty for Justice for Palestine group as well as students from other UC campuses. Participants held signs calling for charges to be dropped against protesters who have been arrested.

Block departs UCLA on July 31. Darnell Hunt, executive vice president and provost, will serve as interim chancellor until Frenk becomes UCLA's seventh chancellor on January 1, 2025.

In previous roles, Frenk was founding director of Mexico's National Institute of Public Health, held positions at the World Health Organization and the nonprofit Mexican Health Foundation, and was a senior fellow with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's global health program.

Frenk received his medical degree from the National University of Mexico in 1979. He then attended the University of Michigan, where he earned master's degrees in public health and sociology, and a joint doctorate in medical care organization and sociology.

Experts: US will have nearly 2 million international students by 2034

FILE - People line up outside McKale Memorial Center on the University of Arizona campus, Jan. 12, 2011, in Tucson, Ariz.
FILE - People line up outside McKale Memorial Center on the University of Arizona campus, Jan. 12, 2011, in Tucson, Ariz.

Experts predict the U.S. will enroll nearly 1.8 million international students by 2034, ICEF Monitor reports.

Most of the students will hail from India, along with China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Nepal, Brazil and Mexico, the analysis says.

Read the story here. (May 2024)

UCLA gets its first international student undergraduate council president

FILE - The UCLA campus on April 25, 2019.
FILE - The UCLA campus on April 25, 2019.

An international student will lead the Undergraduate Students Association Council at UCLA for the first time.

Adam Tfayli, who is from Lebanon, won the presidential race, beating out five other candidates.

Student newspaper the Daily Bruin has the story here. (May 2024)

Examining the facts behind US international student boom

FILE - Students listen during commencement in Harvard Yard, at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., May 23, 2024.
FILE - Students listen during commencement in Harvard Yard, at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., May 23, 2024.

The U.S. international student population is booming.

The Chicago Tribune takes a look at the trend and what it means for colleges. Read the story here. (May 2024)

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