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Information about Regents action on freedom of expression 

October 10, 2017

Recent media coverage has led to confusion about the policy passed by the UW System Board of Regents on Oct. 6.

At its meeting at UW-Stout, the Board of Regents reiterated its support for free speech and expressed concerns about closing off presentations and impeding the free speech of others. The board also restated current policy that students who participate in major disruptions and prevent someone from speaking are subject to the disciplinary process.

The board’s action put forward a mandatory set of sanctions for students who repeatedly disrupt the free expression of others. This is the first time the Board of Regents has outlined mandatory sanctions for the student discipline process.

We support the right of our students to engage in expression consistent with the First Amendment. There is a long tradition of protest and activism on campus at UW–Madison, a tradition that has helped to spur important societal change.

A university campus is a place where individuals have the right to freely express their views without fear of harassment or intimidation. The ability to do so, and for people to engage in vigorous debate about those views, are hallmarks of higher education and should be encouraged. One person’s right to free speech should never be used to shout down the voices of others.

The policy passed by the Board of Regents applies immediately to all UW System schools, including UW–Madison. While we said prior to the vote, and continue to believe, that the mandatory sanctions set out by the policy unnecessarily take away the discretion of a campus to impose sanctions appropriate to a student’s conduct in a given situation, we will follow the Board of Regents’ policy.

UW-Madison also has specific guidelines to facilitate free speech as it relates to campus speakers, protests and demonstrations. We will work with System administration and the Regents on a balanced approach that ensures all voices are heard.