Minnesota Republicans are pushing a bill they say defends free speech on campus.
Introduced last week by State Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) and State Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls) at a press conference alongside members of the University of Minnesota College Republicans, the bill would make state-funded universities adopt policies that place a higher emphasis on free speech.
You will not be surprised to learn that the actual text of the bill does the opposite of that.
although faculty are free in the classroom to discuss subjects within areas of their competence, faculty shall be cautious in expressing personal views in the classroom and shall be careful not to introduce controversial matters that have no relationship to the subject taught, especially matters in which they have no special competence or training and in which, therefore, faculty’s views cannot claim the authority accorded statements they make about subjects within areas of their competence, provided that no faculty will face adverse employment action for classroom speech, unless it is not reasonably germane to the subject matter of the class as broadly construed, and comprises a substantial portion of classroom instruction.
So, placing a “higher emphasis on free speech” is to be accomplished by gagging college professors. That doesn’t sound like free speech to me. As usual, right-wingers use “free speech” as a code for limiting speech they don’t like.
This is also a bill that demonstrates a deep ignorance about how universities work. I am part of a team of faculty who have the mission of helping students acquire basic knowledge about a rich, complex subject. That knowledge is not imparted in a single class (why, not even my class); I rely on students learning preliminary information in the prerequisites to my courses, and my colleagues expect that students will emerge from my classes with knowledge they can build on. There is a tremendous amount of peer pressure to keep class content focused and substantial. I don’t need a law saying that I can’t spend hours and hours of class time talking about, oh I don’t know, Trump, atheism, lobsters, or feminism.
I really don’t need a bluenosed ideologue hovering over my should to police my class time in order to teach well, and in fact, that would be one other factor that would compromise my effectiveness.