Saturday, December 20, 2008

Speech Code of the Month: University of Cincinnati

We read:
"FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for December 2007: the University of Cincinnati. The University of Cincinnati maintains a "Free Speech Area" policy (see page 10 of manual) limiting free speech to one area of campus and requiring that activities even in that area be formally scheduled through the Campus Scheduling Office. These free speech zone policies are typically very unpopular with students, and FIRE has successfully challenged a number of them, including at West Virginia University, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Texas Tech University, Citrus College, the University of Nevada-Reno, and Colorado State University.

So if these policies are so common, what makes the University of Cincinnati's stand out enough to merit the Speech Code of the Month shame? It is the fact that the university backs up its free speech zone policy with the threat of criminal punishment:
"The northwest section (see diagram) of McMicken Commons immediately east of McMicken Hall on the West Campus is designated as the main free speech area. Individuals or groups wanting to use these areas must schedule the activity in the Campus Scheduling Office. Anyone violating this policy may be charged with trespassing.

Really? The university plans to criminally prosecute students who choose to exercise their free speech rights on other open areas of the university's campus, or who fail to register their activities in advance with the Campus Scheduling Office? If this is true, it is not only a massive violation of students' First Amendment rights, but also a colossal waste of the judicial system's time. If it is not true, but is merely a threat made to give the free speech zone policy some "teeth," then it has a powerful and impermissible chilling effect on student speech on campus. A quick look at a map of the university's West Campus shows that the "northwest section of McMicken Commons" is a very small area of campus, and that there are numerous other greens, commons, lawn areas, and sidewalks where students should be able to exercise their free speech rights. It is truly shameful this public university-legally bound to uphold its students' First Amendment rights-not only maintains this repressive Free Speech Area policy but threatens students with criminal prosecution merely for exercising their constitutionally protected rights outside of the paltry area it has designated for free speech.



Anonymous said...

Someone should try protesting somewhere else on campus and then fight it after they are punished.

Anonymous said...

Now let's not forget that one's privilege of "Freedom of speech" in the U.S. is very subjective, can be interpreted in many ways, and can be suppressed at the whim of any Liberal. Oh, how deafening is the noise of the Founding Fathers rolling in their graves.

Anonymous said...

This may be a badly worded policy as opposed to an oppressive one.

If you read the whole section of the student manual, it is clear that this is the main, but not the only area for speech.

In fact, the following paragraph in the manual lists places where the university will help supply power for amplification of sound. The northwest corner of the McMickin common is not listed.

The area in question is set up to be an area where people can present a point of view. There is an amphitheater, seating etc.

I believe that what the university is saying is that if you want to use that area, you have to register for it. If not, there can be the really ugly situation where you have groups competing for the same space at the same time. Registering doesn't restrict speech in the least. What it does do is protect that speech from someone who comes along and says that they have more rights than you do and pushes you away from that area. THEY would be the ones arrested for the trespassing.

Its a poorly worded policy to be sure.

Anonymous said...

Free speech zone?

How about a Bet on when Obama will get wacked zone?

I bet the university Liberals would have that squashed fast enough.

Anonymous said...

Anon3, you seem to have created an entirely new situation. Why should anyone have to "register" to speak or be confined to small areas where they can speak? That sounds very much like N. Korea or Iran to me.

The problem with many colleges (and other entities) is that they reach a point where they actually think they are a law-making body. They are not! They can not suspend anyone's Constitutional rights! And the best way to make them understand that fact is with a very good, and very aggressive lawyer. When you start taking their money, they'll get the message.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:30,
Anon3, you seem to have created an entirely new situation. Why should anyone have to "register" to speak or be confined to small areas where they can speak?

It is not a small area. It appears to be an amphitheater or at least an area where seating is. You don't want to have groups competing for the same space. That would lead to arguments and even possibly violence. The "registering" for the speaker is not to prevent him from speaking, but perhaps to prevent a possible altercation between two or more people or groups that want the same space. I suspect that if there is no conflict where two or more groups want to speak, no trespassing charges are filed. That is why the policy says "charges MAY be filed."

(By the way, the whole McMicken Commons area is a "free speech" zone where people can speak, talk, debate, etc. Apparently there is something special about the northwest corner where groups want to use that space to have their message heard.)

The group that reserves the area gets to use it. The reservation is not based on content of the speech or anything other than a request to use that space. That seems to be reasonable to me. If not, what is to prevent a group from bursting into a classroom and speaking about whatever subject while a class is being taught? It is the same thing, right? Freedom of speech? Or how about holding a symposium on center court while the basketball team is trying to play a game? Once again, it is "free speech," right?

The "registration" seems to be to prevent groups from clashing and perhaps violence from breaking out when more than one group wants the same area to present their message. If that is the case, it is not a restriction of anyone's right of free speech.

Nowhere in the student manual does it say that this corner is the only area for free speech. In fact, the manual says quite the opposite. I see no dofference in requesting a "reservation" for this area and requesting a reservation for a room to meet in. As long as the reservation is not used to quell points of view, but instead is used to maintain good order and in doing so enhance the exchange of ideas, then I see nothing wrong with it.