Students should support free speech bill

by Nick Whitaker

Over the summer, many SMU students watched as our university sprung to the forefront of the national conversation over free speech on college campuses. After the administration attempted to ban displays on Dallas Hall Lawn, a coalition of students from across the political spectrum came together and successfully negotiated a compromise that allowed students to continue holding displays on the lawn, thus preserving a vibrant culture of free speech at SMU.

Since last summer, free speech controversies have continued at universities across the country. Perhaps most prominent was the shutting down of Milo Yiannopoulos’ “Free Speech Week” at UC Berkeley. But even beyond such high-profile events, the practice of “shouting down” speakers has become a tragically common practice on college campuses. Between Oct. 5-12, notable disruptions took place on college campuses every day. Fortunately, students at SMU have not only been remarkably sheltered from this sort of intolerant activity, but have also actively advocated for a free speech culture.

As students, we should be proud of the culture we have cultivated, but we should also go further. We must pass legislation that ensures free speech at SMU. Fortunately, legislation written by Senator Cecily Cox and Colin Smith of College Republicans with that goal has been proposed and will soon be debated in Student Senate. Titled “A Resolution on Free Speech on SMU Campus,” this legislation will enshrine the culture of free speech that SMU has fostered in the Student Senate bylaws. The bill reads as follows:

“Free speech and expression by members of the SMU community, including, but not limited to, students, faculty, and staff, will be allowed without infringement by the university with the exception of speech which inhibits the ability of the university to operate effectively or undoubtedly violates the law . . .The university is built on the principles of free discourse and discussion, which necessarily imply inherent disagreements and challenges to previously existing ideas or feelings.”

With this legislation, SMU has a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the country that we are a different kind of university that is free from the illiberal speech restrictions that plague so many college campuses across the nation. The bill will announce to prospective SMU students that they can safely share their ideas and debate here—a chance they may not have at many other schools.

Though the bill is excellent, there has been some dissent within Student Senate. I would like to invite all interested to read the legislation and to contact your student senators to ensure they are voting in favor of the bill.

Tell us what you think.