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Government/Politics

Senate Panel Discusses Campus Free Speech Provisions

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Ryan Poppe
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Senate State Affairs Committee at Texas State University

One of the issues state lawmakers are examining ahead of the 2019 legislative session is whether or not the free speech of students on state college campuses is being protected. And that was exactly what members of the Senate State Affairs Committee asked campus presidents about during their panel discussion at Texas State University.

When a speech by State Rep. Briscoe Cain at Texas Southern University in Houston was canceled because of protests, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick decided the issue of protecting free speech on state college campuses needed to be more carefully examined.

 

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Credit Ryan Poppe
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State Sen. Joan Huffman, chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee

Committee chairwoman State Sen. Joan Huffman highlighted the importance of the issue and the need for a possible legislative fix during her opening remarks.

“We are seeing far too many incidents where faculty — perhaps students — have moved to limit speech when they don’t like what the other people are saying, and we need to put an end to that,” Huffman said.

Brantley Star with the Texas attorney general’s office said not all unpopular or offensive speech is protected speech. Star pointed to the case of a former Texas A&M student who had scheduled to have the white nationalist leader Richard Spencer speak on campus.

“A&M refused the permit, and their expressed basis for doing so was the risk to life and safety,” Star said.

The speech and rally were to take place immediately following a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one person died.

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Credit Ryan Poppe
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Denise Trauth, president of Texas State University

Lawmakers asked Denise Trauth, president of Texas State University, to testify about the university's policies when it comes to free speech rights of students or their invited guests.

Trauth told lawmakers their biggest challenge is protecting the free speech of all recognized student groups while ensuring their personal safety.

“We live in a divided country, so it should not be a surprise that our campuses are divided,” Trauth said. “Our challenge is to create a learning environment that is simultaneously supportive and inclusive but also protective of what some find unpopular and even offensive expression.”

The hearing follows a recent federal lawsuit filed by the Young Conservatives group against the Lone Star College System. The suit contends the school system refused to recognize the Young Conservatives as a student group, which meant they couldn't invite guest speakers and its members couldn't make on-campus speeches.

Ryan Poppe can be reached at rpoppe@tpr.org or on Twitter @RyanPoppe1