In 2017, the Goldwater Institute introduced a model bill designed to ensure free expression within America’s public university systems. We hope that public debate over these legislative proposals will strengthen freedom of speech at private colleges and universities as well. The key provisions in this model legislation are inspired by three classic defenses of campus free speech: Yale’s 1974 Woodward Report, The University of Chicago’s 1967 Kalven Report, and the University of Chicago’s 2015 Stone Report.
The Goldwater model legislation does several things:
It creates an official university policy that strongly affirms the importance of free expression, nullifying any existing restrictive speech codes in the process.
It prevents administrators from disinviting speakers, no matter how controversial, whom members of the campus community wish to hear from.
It establishes a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others.
It allows persons whose free-speech rights have been improperly infringed by the university to recover court costs and attorney’s fees.
It reaffirms the principle that universities, at the official institutional level, ought to remain neutral on issues of public controversy to encourage the widest possible range of opinion and dialogue within the university itself.
It ensures that students will be informed of the official policy on free expression.
It authorizes a special subcommittee of the university board of trustees to issue a yearly report to the public, the trustees, the governor, and the legislature on the administrative handling of free-speech issues.
Taken together, these provisions create a system of interlocking incentives designed to encourage students and administrators to respect and protect the free expression of others. Several states are considering and passing legislation inspired by the Goldwater model.
Nowhere is the need for open debate more important than on America’s college campuses. Students maturing from teenagers into adults must be confronted with new ideas, especially ideas with which they disagree, if they are to become informed and responsible members of a free society. Colleges and universities need to recognize the role they play in shaping their students’ openness to ideas and take action to ensure that free expression is protected on their campuses.