Montana gov vetoed free speech policy, but higher ed commissioner has something in the works

Democrat presidential candidate and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock recently vetoed a campus free speech bill.

But Clayton Christian, Montana's commissioner of higher education, has asked the Board of Regents to conduct a policy review.

The Montana Board of Regents has opened a review into their colleges’ free speech policies after Democrat presidential candidate and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed legislation aimed at tightening protections on college students’ free speech rights.

“Nothing is more important in the Montana University System than free speech, academic freedom, and the free exchange of ideas,” Montana commissioner of higher education Clayton Christian told Campus Reform.  “I reported to the board last month that I have asked our campuses to review their policies and procedures pertaining to free speech and to share information with our system office. That review is under way. We look forward to ensuring that free speech is protected and encouraged in the Montana University System.”

Sponsored by Republican state Rep. Mike Hopkins, House Bill 735 would have prohibited free speech zones on college campuses across the state and would require that public institutions of higher education have policies that protect free speech.

The bill was vetoed by the governor and subsequently failed a veto override poll by legislators.

[RELATED: Montana legislators fail to override Dem governor’s campus free speech veto]

Republican state Rep. David Bedey, a co-sponsor of the now-dead HB 735, was happy to hear that the commissioner is reviewing the issue further.

“I am encouraged by the prospect of a thorough review of free speech policies across the Montana University System and expect the Regents to take the matter seriously,” Bedey told Campus Reform. “Intellectual diversity is under attack at many colleges in America. Montanans must ensure that this erosion of our First Amendment rights does not occur in our state’s colleges.”

Even though Bullock said that he has been “assured” that state campus policies support First Amendment rights, schools in the state have had their fair share of free speech controversies.

In December 2018, the University of Montana Western was outed for having “civility standards” that banned “mean, nasty, or vindictive [discussions] in spoken or printed or emailed words, facial expressions, or gestures.”

Shortly after multiple outlets highlighted the policy, Campus Reform reported it was scrubbed from the school’s website and the university tried to claim that the “civility standards” were not an actual policy.

In the fall 2018, a Montana State University student claimed he was banned from MSU after discussing transgender individuals with a professor, as Campus Reform reported. The school settled with the student for $120,000 in April.

[RELATED: Lawsuit accusing college of banning ‘straight male’ from campus takes a turn]

Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for free speech nonprofit the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said that the group “look[s] forward to providing the Commissioner with information regarding the policies on Montana’s campuses that restrict student’s expressive rights.”

A spokesperson for Montana State University told Campus Reform that the school is aware of the review and anticipate the results to be shared at the September or November Board of Regents meeting.

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