Making civility part of education

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Setting limits on bad behavior is not an assault on free speech.

WE ARE UNAPOLOGETIC defenders of the First Amendment - free speech, free press, freedom to assemble and ask the government to redress grievances, and religious freedoms.

We also are defenders of intellectual freedom and the civility necessary to debate and discuss the power of ideas without being forced to endure a climate of fear or repression.

So we believe regents of the University of Wisconsin System are well within bounds by adopting a free speech policy that includes penalties for repeat offenders who try to deny the rights of others to express themselves. Free speech is guaranteed for all, or it's guaranteed for none. The First Amendment does not say only the favored are allowed to speak.

DESPITE HOW SOME are trying to portray it, the Board of Regents policy seems measured and reasonable. If a student commits a second offense of violence, disruptive conduct or other actions intended to disrupt the free-speech rights of another individual, that student will be subject to suspension. A third offense of trying to suppress another's speech could result in expulsion.

Only those determined not to learn the lesson of what the First Amendment means stand to be punished.

This has been painted as a liberal vs. conservative issue, and perhaps that's true. Liberals are much less likely to be shouted down or physically intimidated on college campuses than conservative speakers.

Nevertheless, that characterization is unfortunate. The policy protects all views. What it does is place the University of Wisconsin System firmly on the side of open dialogue without threats of violence or being shouted down. That's exactly where the UW ought to be.

THIS COUNTRY IS in danger of splitting into tribalism. Increasingly, the Left behaves badly toward people with conservative views. And the Right behaves badly toward people with liberal views. Don't believe it? Just check your social media feed.

By the way, both sides tend to behave badly toward anybody in the moderate middle. The message is: Choose sides - and only two sides are allowed.

As a nation, Americans are turning a deaf ear to each other. "Agree with me or you're the enemy," clearly is the message.

Down that road lies an accelerating descent into conflict and chaos.

So we applaud the Board of Regents for taking a stand, making clear that every view should be heard. Pipe down, people. Listen, show respect for others and then exercise your own free-speech right to express a view. With civility.

A FINAL WORD: This is much better, with UW regents establishing their own campus policy, than to have something imposed by the heavy hand of the politicians. The Assembly passed a campus speech measure but it bogged down in the Senate. That failure is a good thing. Any political solution looks partisan and is subject to attack or dismissal on that basis. Political control suggests limits on free speech. A university policy is easier to read and accept for the stated purpose, to protect free and open dialogue rather than suppress it. The professional politicians should stand down.

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