U of Washington to pay $127,000 to settle free speech lawsuit
- The University of Washington has to pay legal costs for a group contesting a security fee the institution said it owed for a campus rally, another episode in the ongoing debate about free speech on college campuses.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education reports the university has to pay $127,000 to lawyers of the College Republicans, settling a lawsuit in which the group claimed that the $17,000 the university charged it for security discriminated against the organization and violated “fundamental principles of free speech, equal protection, and due process.” A federal judge ruled in the College Republicans' favor.
- The university claimed the fee was necessary to pay for security officers, and although it agreed in the settlement to stop charging the fee if a campus organization did not request the support, it held out that it would still charge a "constitutionally permissible security fee" for events.
There have been numerous, sometimes tragic, incidents surrounding free speech on college campuses during the past academic year, including a man being shot at the University of Washington outside a presentation by the right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos. A couple was later charged in the incident, heightening tension about the issue. Prosecutors allege the two attended the protest against Yiannopoulos intending to goad those opposing him into a conflict.
And student groups and controversial speakers continue to sue over these issues. Just last week The University of Michigan responded to a lawsuit against it by a group representing students who said their rights to free speech were denied by the university's policies, and the U.S. Justice Department weighed in favorably in the suit. Recent reports have suggested that Congress is not likely to pass legislation on free speech on campus, but several states have passed laws with various restrictions.
There are opposing views about how much free speech should be allowed on campuses. For example, at recent American Association of University Professors conference participants argued for firm guidelines and suggested that policies too often are vague or contradictory. Some said colleges have become increasingly intolerant of conservative views, while free speech zones on campuses have been controversial.
Some higher education leaders have suggested colleges and universities need to establish an "engagement team" that includes officials from academic departments, student affairs and public safety and facilities offices to meet with event planners in advance along with those who may be concerned about controversial speakers.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education U. of Washington Settles Campus Republicans’ Free-Speech Lawsuit for $127,000