Feedback on Draft Campus Policy About Free Speech
May 21, 2013 1:26 PM   Subscribe

My school is currently working on a new "Respect for Freedom of Expression Policy". A PDF of the latest draft is available here. I would appreciate any feedback about ways to improve it, especially from the perspective of allowing maximum free speech, protest, and dissent, and limiting the ability of the school to crack down on campus activism.

I am hoping that people have experience with these kinds of policies from other schools and might be able to share what you have learned. Is there anything in the document that jumps out as a red flag? How might the school use the contents of this policy to limit activism on campus? What changes should we try to have made to the current contents?

Also, is there anything that isn't in this draft that we should try to have included? Because Emory is a private institution, it has some leeway in setting it's own policies. We would like to have this document improved to allow for maximum rights for future campus activists so that we can hold Emory to this standard in the future.

Any comments or insights about these kinds of policies would be appreciated, as well as the specifics of this draft.
posted by andoatnp to Education (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am speechles. Are such policies commonplace? For a freedom of speech policy it appears to restrict quite a lot of freedoms. I cannot be alone in finding the concept of booking a protest venue in advance absurd.
posted by BenPens at 2:05 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Emory University (“University”) is committed to an environment where the free expression of ideas and open, vigorous debate and speech are valued, promoted, and encouraged.

Then you do not need a free speech policy.

I do not mean to be glib, but that is the truth. The only things that I think are reasonable, such as noise levels, are already covered by county ordinance or other existing conduct policies.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:17 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Random thoughts ... I feel the committee should be more balanced, ie an equal number of students as people employed by the university. Quorum should also be greater than there suggested "one faculty, one staff, one student" member. I know nothing of noise levels, are there any current activities on campus that exceed those noise levels (eg construction, sports events, graduation ceremonies)? c excludes demonstration in outdoor areas if there is already an event. Which means there can never be a demonstration when something possibly worth demonstrating is happening. There should be some allowances for demonstrations at the same time - also, can the university effectively close down the entirety of the campus by "booking" events so no protests or demonstrations can happen? Who decides if pedestrian and/or vehicular access is "unreasonably impeded"? At protests I have been at there is an actual agreement (each car can be blocked for up to five minutes but must be released after five minutes and the next car in line can then be held for up to five minutes). The fact the committee makes that decions and the committee is always able to outvote students (who are the only ones protesting...) makes that policy unreasonable. They love that work "unreasonable", dont they? But they never really define it and the paid staff on the committee have the power to decide what "reason" is. They also have the right to have the Vice President attend private meetings. That seems over-reaching, especially since they do not have to respect the confidentiality of the meeting "unreasonably". Demanding ID, especially of individuals in "public" areas of the university is a power even the police do not have. If a meeting is terminated the VP releases a statement - not the committee or a joint statement of the VP and leaders of the demonstration. They are tightly controlling information. Is the university staff unionised? Is their union aware of how limiting this policy is on them if they go on strike? Maybe reach out to them as allies against this policy.
posted by saucysault at 2:18 PM on May 21, 2013

It strikes me that 12 pages of policies, procedures and, yes, committees, will possibly restrict a lot more speech than it protects.
When I was involved in campus politics, we always argued for a one-sentence policy: '[College] respects the Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.'
We didn't argue that these rights were absolute -- we knew about fires and crowded theaters, and we claimed no right to disrupt a class. But we maintained that the default state, everywhere on campus, should be full freedom. From that starting place the administration had the burden of carving out exceptions, or trying to. We fought against a few of those, as you may imagine.
The most important free-speech victories came in the course of bigger fights -- for civil rights, women's rights, against the Vietnam war, etc. That was a different era, of course.
It's a worthy goal, and good luck to you. (Bonus tidbit: I was arrested for distributing a radical newspaper at your school about 40 years ago. There were some protests and charges were dropped.)
posted by LonnieK at 2:18 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may want to contact the folks at FIRE. They are literally experts in speech codes, and are passionate first amendment advocates. Giving advice on this sort of thing is what they do.
posted by el io at 2:29 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I should have pointed to this specific page FIRE has in regards to speech codes - a way to ask for their feedback on some links on common issues with the codes.
posted by el io at 2:31 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Explicitly stating that university police are allowed to skulk about not in uniform (which is what 'not immediately identifiable' means to me) strikes me as a big red flag.

It strikes me that if the Vice President shuts something down, it should trigger an investigation by some entity that actually has credibility and plausible impartiality (and shouldn't include a member named by said VP).

If one were deeply cynical, one might imagine the university could argue that any protest 'unreasonably impeded' the free flow of 'traffic', given that any group of people anywhere kind of get in the way regardless of whether they're protesting. I'm not familiar with Emory's campus, but there are probably areas that should be totally fair game, as you could protest there without obstructing access to a building. The most ambitious campus protest I've ever seen involved setting up a fake military checkpoint in the middle of a major plaza. Yes, they're blocking space where I might otherwise walk, but walking around them is trivial.

You may be interested to know that Berkeley apparently has observers (scroll down) to act as witnesses, though it's not clear who can summon them. Needless to say, I don't think anyone would trust the UCPD. (I never actually saw such an observer. The UCPD doing a bad job hiding behind a tree filming a protest in an attempt at intimidation, on the other hand, was a fairly regular occurrence.)
posted by hoyland at 3:05 PM on May 21, 2013

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