Under the watchful eyes of the state Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker, UW Regents last week approved a policy that calls for suspending and expelling students who disrupt campus speeches and presentations.

The Board of Regents adopted the policy on a voice vote at their meeting on the UW-Stout campus in Menomonie with one dissenting vote — that of state Public Schools Superintendent Tony Evers, a Democrat who is running against Walker in next year’s gubernatorial elections.

Under the new policy, students who engage in violence or other disorderly conduct to disrupt a campus speaker twice can be suspended. A third such disruption would be grounds for expulsion.

Evers said the policy “will chill and suppress free speech on this campus and all campuses.”

We doubt that will be the case. The hope is the policy change will curb the shout-downs and disruption of speakers — typically conservative or otherwise controversial speakers — whose messages are opposed by other student groups on state campuses.

Quashing those messages are anathema to the spirit of free speech and the idea — long enshrined in the plaque on Bascom Hall that proclaims the “great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.”

That means sifting through all sorts of ideas. Good ones. Bad ones. Loathsome ones. Ideas which students may disagree with — really disagree with. You can’t do that sifting without doing some listening and at least hearing what those ideas are.

That was the message of UW System President Ray Cross who said last week: “Perhaps the most important thing we can do as a university is to teach students how to engage and listen to those with whom they differ. If we don’t show students how to do this, who will? Without civil discourse and a willingness to listen and engage with different voices, all we are doing is reinforcing our existing values.”

Our campuses are not cocoons where only “accepted” ideas are exchanged. Those ideas must be able to stand up to the test of exposure to other thoughts and ideas and students must challenge themselves to critically analyze those arguments — that is the crux of learning.

It requires more listening and less shouting.


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