Walsh seeks to protect free speech, academic inquiry on Washington’s college campuses

State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen says that, recent events at The Evergreen State College have highlighted the need for stronger state public policy reaffirming both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Washington State Constitution, Article 1, Section 5, right to freedom of speech and expression. These rights include the ability of all students and faculty members to speak freely on campuses of public institutions of higher education.

Walsh has introduced a “freedom of speech on college campuses” bill, which would clarify that students and faculty must be allowed to express their beliefs and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship or sanction.

“We need to protect our deeply-held commitment to freedom of speech and free academic inquiry at state universities,” says Walsh. “The vulgar, closed-minded tyranny that we’ve seen recently at Evergreen State has no place on campuses funded with public resources. This bill protects both students and teachers. It reminds our public universities that they must encourage the ability to think, speak clearly and express opinions freely.”

House Bill 2223 would apply not only to The Evergreen State College, but all state-funded regional and state universities—and community and technical colleges. The bill would require the governing boards of these institutions to adopt policy affirming the principles of free speech and academic inquiry, even if that speech or inquiry is “emotionally disturbing” to some people.

“We need to require standards of academic freedom, civility and—frankly—emotional maturity on college campuses,” continued Walsh. “For colleges and universities to be useful institutions, they must protect open and free inquiry. Students and faculty should not have to be concerned about their professional well-being, or even physical safety, for expressing viewpoints. Even controversial viewpoints.”

Walsh’s proposal specifically prevents students, faculty, or even members of the public from restricting the free speech rights of others. Under the bill, state-funded higher education institutions would be required to foster an environment that ensures freedom of speech and exchange of ideas. This would include not restricting appearances of controversial speakers.

“With this bill, reasonable Washingtonians of all political stripes can join together to reclaim the word ‘liberal’ from a small group of childish people who’ve hijacked it,” Walsh says. “Our state-funded colleges and universities do great things for all of us when they teach people how to think critically and engage with ideas—even ideas they don’t like—coherently. Some of our colleges have lost their way in this regard. Let’s help them get back to that important mission.”

House Bill 2223 has been referred to the House Higher Education Committee where it awaits a public hearing.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov