ST. PAUL, Minn. – Last week Alpha News reported on the University of Minnesota sequestering an event featuring conservative speaker Ben Shapiro. Now Republican members of the state legislature are preparing to introduce a “campus neutrality” bill.
Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) and Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls) will introduce a bill to protect free speech and political impartiality at state-funded universities.
“Minnesota’s universities are where young minds search for truth, but that search requires consideration and exploration of diverse viewpoints,” Nelson said, according to the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus. “Students must be able to express themselves without the fear of harassment or retaliation, and that’s the protection the Campus Neutrality bill offers.”
“Where academic freedom is absent, intellectual thought is endangered,” Nelson added.
The bill, the Campus Free Expression Act, will require state colleges to institute a policy that protects and affirms free speech, and ensure the policy is readily available to students and staff. The policy must also define student-on-student harassment and provide guidelines for disciplinary action if harassment occurs.
“Universities are where people with diverse ideas and ideals can meet and challenge one another’s beliefs. Too often, students are losing that opportunity to challenge and be challenged,” Nornes said according to the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus. “This bill preserves that right for all students, and makes them better citizens for it.”
The University of Minnesota has been criticized multiple times in the past year for intolerance towards conservative speakers and ideas. Most recently, the university has come under fire for its treatment of an upcoming event featuring conservative speaker Ben Shapiro. Shapiro’s February 26 lecture, organized by Young America’s Foundation (YAF), was originally set to take place on UMN’s main Minneapolis campus. However, when event organizers attempted to reserve a lecture hall which had previously been used by liberal speakers like former Sen. Al Franken and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), their requests were denied.
“The University of Minnesota’s actions betray a clear anti-conservative bias and a double standard in how they treat speakers based on the ideas they advance,” YAF Spokesperson Spencer Brown told Alpha News. “The school’s decision to push Ben Shapiro’s lecture to a venue miles away from the main center of campus is the result of what appear to be viewpoint discriminatory time, place, manner restrictions leveraged to limit attendance and muzzle conservative ideas.”
During a press conference for the Campus Free Expression Act, Nelson addressed the current situation at UMN, calling it “inconceivable” that the event cannot be held on the main campus. Instead, the event is being sent to the St. Paul campus, several miles away from the main campus, in a lecture hall that is significantly smaller than what was requested. Tickets for the event sold out in less than 24 hours and they are still receiving requests from students wishing to attend the event.
“I do not understand how the University of Minnesota, our flagship university that gets millions of dollars each year in infrastructure for buildings, cannot provide a suitable building for the college Republicans who are bringing a national speaker here,” Nelson said at the press conference.
Watch the full press conference here.