Tuesday, January 21, 2020
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Some colleges look closely at free speech policies

Most places on college campuses are public places. It would therefore seem appropriate to allow freedom of expression just about everywhere on campus, say, for protesting.

Colleges are struggling with the balance between free speech and protection of non-speakers’ rights.

But as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, it’s a real struggle to define the limits of free speech on college campuses, such as the City University of New York.

Some campuses are using a statement developed at the University of Chicago as a model for drafting free-speech policies.

Students and professors who think their issue is important may be tempted to march in protest. Where they do that is the question. Should they be able to block traffic on a major roadway? Should they be able to protest in the stands of a soccer game? Outside a classroom building?

So, it gets tricky when it comes to protesting on university property that has been designated or reserved for another purpose. But can a university set aside only certain areas where protests are allowed to take place?

Most people think not. As a result, university boards are pausing, taking a step back, before they adopt any new policies around freedom of expression.

“We want to regulate free speech with as light a touch as possible but not so light a touch where people think they can say whatever they want whenever they want however they want wherever they want,” the Chronicle quoted Ben Trachtenberg, a professor of law and chair of the Faculty Council at the University of Missouri, as saying. Mizzou experienced active protests over race this past year and ended up losing its president over that issue.

“For example, you can’t protest in the ambulance bay of the hospital, no matter how important your message is,” he said.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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