DSU teaches wrong lesson on free speech
September 25, 2013
It didn’t take long for Utah’s newest public university to catch up with its national peers in teaching its students to sit down and keep quiet.
Since last September, Dixie State student Indigo Klabanoff has tried to start a student organization on campus. And since last September, Dixie State has used every trick in the administrative handbook to stop her.
Here’s the story.
Last November, Indigo met with Dean of Students Del Beatty to talk about the possibility of founding a sorority on campus. “The possibility was quickly shot down by Beatty, who cited Dixie State President Stephen Nadauld’s previous argument that “the introduction of Greek life on campus implies a ‘party’ atmosphere.”
Just a few weeks after Dixie State was recognized as a state university, Indigo inquired again about starting a sorority. Indigo pointed out that Dixie State’s new status offered the school a new opportunity to allow a Greek organization on campus. Again, her request was denied because of the “‘party school’ image” concern. When Indigo pointed out that Dixie State already recognized a “party club,” the school still didn’t budge.
So in July, Indigo changed her tactics. She instead applied for recognition as a student organization, just like the Party Club. While her club would be called Phi Beta Pi, it wouldn’t be associated with any national Greek organization and the group’s focus on civic engagement would be clear.
But instead of recognizing Indigo’s club, the administration warned her that “the name Phi Beta Pi will not be approved” because students cannot “use Greek letters in our club names unless it is an honor society.”
Indigo was surprised by this rule since she studied Dixie State’s club recognition procedures and didn’t find it. When she asked for documentation, the administration conceded that the ban was not clearly articulated in written policies until after Indigo’s request.
As Indigo begins her senior year, the ban continues.
At first glance, Indigo’s struggle may seem unremarkable. But the lesson Dixie State taught Indigo and her fellow students — do as we say and don’t ask questions — is dangerous to our democracy.
Dixie State’s absurd preference for bureaucratic box-checking over free speech on campus is all too common these days.
This past April, pro-choice students at the University of Alabama were threatened with arrest by campus police for handing out fliers protesting a display by pro-life students. Their crime? Failing to provide university bureaucrats the required 10 days’ notice before exercising their First Amendment rights on campus.
Or take Ohio University student Jillyann Burns, who last fall fell victim to a nonsensical ban on political speech when she found the fliers she put up on her dorm room door criticizing both President Obama and Gov. Romney taken down by administrators.
Too many students at our nation’s public universities learn that speaking out comes with a cost. The enthusiasm of students like Indigo to participate in campus life should be encouraged, not extinguished by bureaucrats who forget the First Amendment and their role as educators.