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Wisconsin Republicans Push Free Speech Protections for UW Schools

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Republicans at the Wisconsin Capitol say students need free speech protections on University of Wisconsin campuses.

The Assembly Committee on Colleges and University held a public hearing on a pair of plans Republicans say will not only make sure the Universities of Wisconsin are respecting the First Amendment but will also open the campus to more students.

“The stark difference between Democrats’ confidence level in higher education, which is about 59% positive according to Gallup, and that of Republicans, which is only about 19% positive and Independents confidence which is measured at about 32% positive, is also reflected in the UW Free Speech Survey results shows the lack of intellectual diversity and tolerance for opposing viewpoints on UW campuses is directly affecting enrollment,” Rep. Amanda Nedweski, R-Pleasant Prairie, told lawmakers.

She is shepherding one of the two plans, Assembly Bill 553, through the legislature.

Nedweski helped write the legislation after the UW Free Speech Survey last year and after a series of public hearings at UW campuses.

That survey showed half of UW students don’t speak their minds out of fear of being “canceled.”

“More than half of our students, 57%, reported wanting to express their views about a controversial topic in class but decided not to,” UW President Jay Rothman said on Twitter of the survey. “Some worried that other students would disagree with their views, or that the instructor would find their views offensive, or that they would get a lower grade.”

Nedweski said so far, the University of Wisconsin has resisted requests to protect and promote free speech.

She said lawmakers must now do something else.

“This is to put pressure on the universities,” Nedweski said.

Nedweski’s plan would include a requirement that would send prospective students a letter explaining that their UW campuses violated the new free speech policy.

Democrats at the Capitol don’t like that idea.

“So, we’re putting pressure on the Universities?” Rep. Alex Joers, D-Middleton said. “I don’t know how I would read that as a student, but they may say ‘Whoa, I don’t want to go to the University of Wisconsin.”

“Yes,” Nedweski said, “That’s the idea.”

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