Critics say Missouri free speech bill would limit speech

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Critics say a Missouri bill aimed at protecting student free speech on college campuses would also chip away at free speech for professors.

At issue is a bill by Republican Rep. Dean Dohrman that could be up for a full House vote as early as next week.

The legislation would ban what are known as "free speech zones," which are designated areas on campus for student expression. It calls for colleges and universities to adopt free speech policies by Jan. 1.

Dohrman said the bill is aimed at encouraging free expression and open debate in higher education, the Columbia Missourian reported .

But the legislation also warns faculty not to talk about issues that are unrelated to their classes.

"Although faculty are free in the classroom to discuss subjects within areas of their competence, faculty should be cautious in expressing personal views in the classroom and faculty should be careful not to introduce matters that have no relationship to the subject taught," the bill states.

The bill says professors couldn't be punished unless they discuss issues that are "not reasonably germane" for a substantial portion of class.

Dohrman said that could mean professors risk being fired. He said the point is to discourage faculty from talking about issues that are not relevant to their classes.

But St. Louis Democratic Rep. Ian Mackey said restricting faculty speech contradicts the point of the bill.

"What's wrong with being offended in the context of a college classroom?" Mackey said during a House floor debate. "What's wrong with that? That's particularly the place where one should be offended. I learn by being offended half the time."

Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan, of Ballwin, said that provision also struck him as odd.

"I do believe that campus free expression is important," Dogan said. "And I do abhor snowflakes on both sides of the aisle, people who can't stand the expression of viewpoints to which they haven't been exposed before."

House members gave the bill initial approval Wednesday. It needs another House vote to move to the Senate.

Lawmakers face a May 17 deadline to pass legislation.

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Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com