State Senator behind free speech legislation launches campaign for governor

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 6:12pm

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) has officially filed paperwork with the Michigan Secretary of State to join the 2018 gubernatorial race, as well as formed a campaign committee to start fundraising. Furthermore, he recently has introduced legislation directed at college campuses.

The two pieces of legislation hope to protect freedom of speech on college campuses, and have sparked dialogue on both the political and University level in recent weeks.

If implemented, Senate Bills 349 and 350 — which have recently been presided over by the state Senate Judiciary Committee — would require universities to adopt policies that protect freedom of speech and intellectual debate in a university setting, while also ensuring that any speaker invited to campus, regardless of political views, is allowed to speak.

Colbeck, who sponsored the legislation, provided a written statement to the committee in which he explained he created the bills in order to protect students’ first amendment rights on college campuses.

"In the interest of preserving our core value of freedom of speech, I have introduced SB 349 and SB 350 to protect the increasingly rare principle of freedom of speech at our colleges and universities,” he said.

In University of Michigan’s official position on freedom of speech and expression, E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for Student Life, explained diverse opinions should be expressed, even if the majority of students disagree with said opinions.

“The University of Michigan strives to create an environment in which diverse opinions can be expressed and heard,” Harper said. “It is a fundamental value of our University that all members of the community and their invited guests have a right to express their views and opinions, regardless of whether others may disagree with those expressions.”

Though the University affirmed its commitment to protecting freedom of speech on campus, LSA junior Amanda Delekta, vice president of internal affairs for the University chapter of College Republicans, said she believes it is problematic the legislation is needed to ensure all students have a right to speak their opinions.

To address this issue, Delekta and two others sponsored a resolution in Central Student Government to strengthen the University’s commitment to freedom of speech.

“This past year this campus has seen events stopped and voices silenced because they were not in the majority,” she said. “At an educational institution this is unacceptable and detrimental to the continuation of critical thinking and the generation of new ideas."

In an interview earlier this month, Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel, Communications Director of the University’s chapter of College Democrats and a columnist for the Daily, said she disagreed with the new legislation as she views it as a method of silencing protestors, who are also protected under the first amendment.

“Senator Colbeck claims his bill promotes and protects free speech, but he advocates for disciplinary sanctions against students and faculty who participate in ‘violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud or other disorderly conduct’ in response to campus speakers,” Schandevel said. “That sounds a lot like a thinly-veiled attempt to silence protesters, who also happen to be protected under the First Amendment.”