'Serious infringement' on student speech called out
July 17, 2012
by Bob Kellogg
Restrictive speech code policies at the Indiana University, Southeast have earned that school the dubious distinction of being recognized by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for "Speech Code of the Month."
Samantha Harris of FIRE says the IUS Code of Student Rights, in part, says the university "recognizes the rights of all students to engage in discussion, to express thoughts and opinions, and to assemble, speak, write, publish, or invite speakers on any subject without university interference or fear of university disciplinary action." But she says their Guidelines Relating to Free Speech are "poorly written and unconstitutional."
"It actually says persons wishing to 'express their opinions, distribute materials or assemble on campus' not only have to submit an Application to Schedule Facilities form at least five days in advance, but approval has to be granted before an event can take place," she explains.
Harris, FIRE's director of speech code research, says universities do have the right to set up reasonable time, place, and manner regulations -- but that many universities treat that as a blank check.
"[Under these guidelines] you could prohibit speech from interfering with classes or blocking pedestrian or vehicular traffic," Harris acknowledges, "but requiring that any expression of opinion on campus be subject to prior notice and approval, or quarantining it to just one or two small areas of campus, is not reasonable by any stretch of the imagination."
She says IUS's free-speech code is strikingly similar to one that was recently struck down by a federal judge. In early June, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled that University of Cincinnati policy violated the First Amendment by restricting student political speech to a certain area and requiring prior notification and permission. The school was asked to rewrite that policy.