BY MARTIN KICH
What follows are some excerpts from an article written by Andrew Haffner for the Bismarck (ND) Tribune:
A bill described by its sponsor as a means to ensure freedom of speech in North Dakota higher education by rejecting ‘political correctness gone crazy’ has passed in the state House.
“Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, sponsor of House Bill 1329, said the proposed legislation is a response to an ‘attitude that free speech is not free speech’ on campuses where he said expression is discouraged by university policy.
“Though the House Education Committee gave a ‘do not pass’ recommendation, the measure passed 65 to 25 on Monday. It needed 48 votes to pass the House.
“Becker defined the term ‘safe space’ as a designated location where ‘the rules guard each person’s sense of self-respect, dignity and feelings’ by restricting discourse on a litany of subjects ranging from LGBT identity to political affiliation.
“’There is an atmosphere of political correctness and social justice that will lead to safe spaces and this whole concept on every campus,’ Becker said. ‘We have to put a stop to it now.’
“HB 1329 would ‘confirm free speech as a fundamental right’ while requiring the State Board of Higher Education, the governing body of the North Dakota University System, to adopt a policy on free speech to apply to all NDUS students.
“That policy would commit the SBHE-controlled institutions to ‘free and open inquiry by students in all matters’ while prohibiting restrictions of speech except in cases in which speech would involve violations of law or disrupt institutional functions. The free-speech policy would be required to contain a ‘bill of student rights’ which would bar NDUS entities from subjecting students to ‘any nonacademic punishment, discipline or censorship’ for an act of lawful expression.’
“Becker cited the University of North Dakota’s Social Justice Living-Learning Community as a point where safe-space concepts have found a home in the NDUS. The Social Justice LLC is one of six residential areas located within campus residence halls. It is described in UND housing information as a place focused on inclusion and social justice issues, including ‘bringing about positive change.’
“Becker suggested ‘it is not you or me who decides what positive change is.’
“’If we disagree with what they think, our ideas have no place on campus,’ he said. ‘They will not be tolerated.’”
“Becker also cited the violence seen last week during protests of controversial right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos at UC-Berkeley as an outgrowth of anti-speech rhetoric on university campuses.”
Defending the “right kind of speech” is not a defense of free speech, whether it is advocated from one end of the political spectrum or the other–whether it is called “political correctness” or it is “Right-speak.”
But it seems more than coincidental that this sort of legislation is being introduced in a number of Red states. And the concern over the damaging impact of restricting students’ free speech would be more convincingly well-intentioned if it were paired with an equivalent concern for the well-being and recourse of students who will be the most predictable targets of bigots who feel further empowered to exercise their free-speech rights.
Likewise, the sudden concern about students’ freedom of speech would be more persuasive if it did not coincide, in some of these states, with efforts to restrict faculty members’ freedom of speech, especially on campus but even beyond campus.
Haffner’s complete article is available at: http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/bill-to-reject-n-d-higher-education-safe-spaces-passes/article_6de40858-9f96-5999-875b-27c69aa87dc1.html.