Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tasks Senate Committee on State Affairs with studying free speech on college campuses

Chase Karacostas

To ensure student freedom of expression is protected, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tasked the Senate Committee on State Affairs to study free speech on college campuses.

The decision came two weeks after Texas Southern University canceled a speech by State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, minutes before it was to start. In response to the cancellation, Cain sent a letter to Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, requesting that the legislature look into the issue of free speech on college campuses before the legislature reconvenes in 2019.

“Free speech is currently being endangered on college campuses,” Cain said in an email. “Universities should be a place where ideas can be exchanged and the freedom of speech protected. Unfortunately, we have seen a trend towards censorship which violates the constitutional rights of students and ultimately does a disservice to their educational experience.”

Cain’s arrival at TSU for his speech to the student group the Federalist Society sparked a protest, according to the Texas Tribune. Shortly after he arrived, TSU’s administrators appeared and declared that the speech was an “unapproved event,” according to the Dallas
Morning News.

Cain’s speech cancellation came amid a growing controversy over attempts to call off speeches featuring conservative speakers on college campuses. Auburn University attempted to cancel a speech by Richard Spencer earlier this year but was blocked by a federal judge, and University of California Berkeley canceled a speech by right-wing activist Milo Yiannopoulos following a series of violent protests on campus.

Patrick also directed the committee to look into freedom of the press and religion and the right to assembly on college campuses.

“These charges are serious directives that reflect both my priorities and the priorities of the Texas Senate,” Patrick said in a press release in late October. “I know that when their reports come back later this interim, they will provide a clear path for Texas on the best way to address the policy challenges we are facing.”

Free speech became a prominent issue at UT last fall following the bake sale protesting affirmative action hosted by Young Conservatives of Texas.

In response, several student government representatives authored a resolution requesting the University to disband YCT. The resolution failed to pass, and McCombs representative Vivianne Tu said she voted against it because the protest, despite being “grotesque,” was not illegal.

“I did not think that the University would get behind that, just because that would be such a blatant display of taking away free speech,” said Tu, management and business honors junior. “(The bake sale) was awful … (but) I don’t believe that I have the right to say you do or do not belong on campus.”

During last spring’s legislative session, Cain filed a bill to increase free speech protections for student groups. The bill did not make it out of committee, but Cain said he plans to refile again in 2019.

College Republicans social chair Cameron Lane said he personally believes free speech is more of a federal issue, and free speech laws are better off left broad rather than narrowing their focus with additional legislation.

“The more that you try to write over it, the more you erase and rewrite, the more laws you try to pile on top, then the more complicated and problematic it becomes,” said Lane, an aerospace engineering sophomore.