New Hampshire Considers Bills to Kill Free Speech Zones, Protect Faculty Whistleblowers

December 23, 2015

By Staff at The College Fix

New Hampshire’s motto “Live Free or Die” is reflected in two bills that would give students the freedom to express themselves anywhere outside on campus and protect professors from retaliation for their scholarship, teaching or blowing the whistle on school fraud and waste.

HB 1561 is based on the Campus Free Expression Act written by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the group said in a post this week. It would designate outdoor areas of public colleges and community colleges as “public forums,” subject to

reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in service of a significant institutional interest only when such restrictions employ clear, published, content and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression. Any such restrictions shall also permit spontaneous and contemporaneous assembly.

In case New Hampshire public institutions think this would give them carte blanche to punish students elsewhere on campus – say, their own rooms – the bill provides that “Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to limit the right of student expression elsewhere on campus.”

Both the state attorney general and the aggrieved person could bring claims in a “court of competent jurisdiction,” with fines starting at $500 and $50 per day the violation continues.

 

HB 1431 would empower faculty who have been subject to “adverse personnel action” for their expression to bring suit in state court, with no minimum fine for violations.

Importantly, it makes no distinction among tenured professors, non-tenured full-timers, adjuncts, lecturers, visiting professors, grad student instructors or “those in comparable positions, however titled.” (Those without tenure are generally at the highest risk of chilled expression.) It exempts those whose “primary responsibilities are administrative or managerial.”

Public institutions would also be barred from even maintaining policies that let them take adverse personnel action against professors for their “scholarship, academic research, or teaching,” or for disclosure of information the professor “reasonably believes” shows a violation of law or regulation, or for

Gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

The bill makes clear that academic expression that is “not reasonably germane to the subject matter of the class” and “comprises a substantial portion of classroom instruction” is not protected from adverse action.

It brings to mind allegations by professors suing Chicago State University, which has allegedly tried to shut down a critical faculty blog, impose a far-reaching cyberbullying policy to silence faculty critics and even invent sexual-harassment charges against one of them.

Both bills were introduced by state Reps. Leonard Turcotte and Frank Edelblut, who isrunning for governor. They are Republicans.