Brianna Childers
KU Statehouse Wire Service
There were strong opinions expressed during a Federal and State Affairs Committee meeting Feb. 15 regarding a proposed bill that would create the Campus Free Speech Protection Act and stop universities from creating free speech zones.
The bill would reinforce that postsecondary educational institutions, including state universities, municipal universities and technical universities are not exempt from the First Amendment and would require them to accept a commitment to the freedom of speech and expression for students and faculty.
Senate Bill 340 also states these institutions would not be allowed to require students or faculty to indicate their loyalty to certain beliefs or orthodoxies on any specific political, philosophical, religious or social subjects.
Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover) supported the bill, saying the country is divided and on campuses today, the right is trying to suppress speech from the left.
“We must learn from both sides, none of us are purveyors of all knowledge or all wisdom and we all have something to gain,” Masterson said. “Whether you gain from listening to someone who is completely offensive, you gain the knowledge ‘this is an idiot’ and you don’t want to go this direction, but that is valuable knowledge.”
In addition, the bill states that universities would not be allowed to designate free speech zones, implement vague or overboard speech codes, or disinvite speakers because of anticipated reaction or opposition to the content of the speech, and they would not be allowed to charge a security fee.
If passed, universities could also require students and faculty to follow conduct related to requirements of law and policy, as well as require the governing authority to adopt a policy that affirms principles of free speech. These policies would have to be distributed annually to students and faculty.
Victoria Snitsar, a University of Kansas student interning for Rep. Dennis “Boog” Highberger (D-Lawrence), supports the bill and said she thinks this bill would prompt higher education public institutions to change policies that they currently have in place regarding limiting free speech.
“Public universities should be the preeminent open forums of our society, where students, staff, and faculty can openly challenge each other’s viewpoints and ideologies,” Snitsar said.
Wichita State University has a policy that creates free speech zones and states “if more than 40 people are expected to participate in the Event, the Event must be held in one or more of the areas shown on the attached map.”
The University of Kansas has a policy that states “The University has designated specific Public Assembly Areas as locations for assemblies, rallies, and/or gatherings on campus for use by registered student or campus organizations or by external groups.”
Megan Jones, a Lawrence resident, expressed her frustrations about the bill and said she is not opposed to people speaking freely on campus, but she is concerned about the section of the bill about security fees.
“When we have concealed weapons on university campuses that anyone is allowed to carry no matter what, and then add on top of that potentially hateful and violent speech, and those two things combined together means we should probably have some security,” Jones said.
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D-Wichita) said she doesn’t feel the bill is needed and it will only create division among students where they are trying to come together.
She said that while she supports free speech, she wants the bill to have an amendment that includes a safe zone for people who are innocent bystanders and trying to get to class.
“I’m in favor of the base line of the bill with another amendment added,” Faust-Goudeau said. “With provisions in there to make sure we have provided, not only free speech, but safety for our students.”
Brianna Childers is a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in journalism from Sedalia, Missouri.