Will Grambling State Respect Free Speech in Time to Make a Difference this Election Season?
October 15, 2010
Time is quickly running out for Grambling State University (GSU) to provide a meaningful response to FIRE's and the ACLU of Louisiana's (LA ACLU's) entreaties to ensure the protection of political speech at GSU. FIRE's first letter, Torch readers will remember, prompted a policy statement from GSU so troublesome—banning, among other things, "offensive comments" about "hair color"—that FIRE and the LA ACLU released a joint statement about it.
We wrote a second time to GSU President Frank G. Pogue on October 1, urging his administration to correct this wayward policy. Pogue has now responded to FIRE's letter, and I quote his response in part:
As President of Grambling State University (GSU), I have initiated a comprehensive review of all university policies to ensure that the policies are clear, that they are fair, and that the community understands what is expected of them. The policy on the use of email is one of those policies under review. Once the policies have been reviewed and evaluated internally, they will be reviewed by University of Louisiana System staff and legal counsel to identify any matters that need to be added, removed or clarified.
These policies impact faculty, staff, students and visitors on our campus. GSU has a long history of fostering free expression of ideas within our educational environment as well as speaking up on many issues critical to the university and to the world at large. That is an important role within our university and fostering that environment is critical.
Our goal is to ensure that we have an email policy which fosters the open and free expression of ideas, while at the same time determining the parameters of use of our internal email system to ensure that there are no violations of State or Federal law in the process.
I'll take this as a good-faith effort on GSU's part to seriously examine its policies and (hopefully) bring them in line with the First Amendment. My worry is over the amount of time this review will take. "Comprehensive" reviews of the type Pogue describes can take universities several months to a year to perform. Having so many cooks in the kitchen (UL system staff and legal counsel, for example) won't do anything to expedite matters.
With only 20 days until the midterm elections, FIRE fears that GSU's current unconstitutional policy will continue to hang over the campus and chill free speech through the midterms and long after, while GSU performs its evaluation. GSU should act quickly to reassure the community that its speech—including core political speech—will be protected, and that GSU will live up to its duties as a public institution bound by the First Amendment.