The Campus Free Speech Act: A Way to Restore the Marketplace of Ideas

Between the rise of safe spaces, trigger warnings, speaker disinvitations, and the often illiberal conduct of campus demonstrators over the past few years, it’s clear that the core constitutional value of free speech is now under siege at our colleges and universities. The fraying of commitment to freedom of speech on the part of college educated millennials, as well as many faculty and administrators, has reached the point where it threatens not only liberal education, but the very survival of the liberty of thought and expression in America at large.

To address this problem, Arizona’s Goldwater Institute and I have collaborated to devise comprehensive state-level legislation designed to restore freedom of speech to the American academy. The resulting model state-level legislation, made public this week along with a white paper explaining its provisions, constitutes what is very possibly the most comprehensive effort ever undertaken to restore and protect freedom of thought and expression on America’s college campuses.

The model Campus Free Speech Act would instruct the governing body of a state university system—generally called the board of trustees or board of governors—to craft a university-wide policy statement that unmistakably affirms the centrality of free expression. The statement would make it clear that it is not the proper role of a university to shield individuals from ideas or opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. By legislative provision, this new statement would supersede and nullify any restrictive speech codes adopted by any constituent school of the state university system.

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