April 19, 2007
CSU speech policies ignite a First Amendment debate
Rocky Mountain Chronicle
The first regulates the peaceful assembly of students on campus. Another forbids “expressions of hostility” against people based on characteristics such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic status. The last limits the type of advertising that can be presented in residence halls.
“These types of policies are always an imminent threat,” Harris says.
No specific grievances have been aired that stem from the peaceful-assembly or hate-incidents policies, although at least one allegation of infringement has arisen because of the advertising policy.
Last semester, campus Libertarians were prevented from freely distributing fliers for Amendment 44 in CSU dormitories. (The measure was sponsored by Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, which sought to legalize up to an ounce of marijuana for those age 21 and older.) The fliers included SAFER’s “Yes on 44” logo, which depicts a cannabis leaf. Officials claimed references to drugs or alcohol were not allowed under the school’s advertising policy.
FIRE doesn’t want such scenarios to become the norm.
In response, Penley referred the concerns to Loretta Martinez, the university’s general counsel.
“We take your concerns seriously and have undertaken a careful review of the issues raised in your letter,” Martinez wrote to FIRE in a March 28 letter. “Colorado State University is committed to upholding its long-standing commitment to the free exchange of ideas on campus and to an environment that encourages dialogue, debate and peaceful assembly and protest among students and members of the community.”
Martinez now says last fall’s marijuana-leaf flier infraction was a misapplication of policy and that a committee of university officials and concerned students will work together to “make clear in our policy and clear in our administration of those policies” the school’s commitment to free speech.
Some student leaders like Associated Students of CSU senator Keith Anderson want to ensure that that isn’t empty rhetoric. He has signed on to a resolution that urges the administration to review speech codes and eliminate inequitable policies.
“The fact that these regulations are on the books bothers me,” Anderson says. “There is still a potential to bring up a B.S. rule and enforce it.”
Anderson and others hope a review is complete by the end of the semester, though it is still unclear what, if any, con
cessions the university will make.
“What FIRE is doing is a useful service … to bring out issues into the open,” says Richard Collins, a professor at the CU-Boulder law school. “That doesn’t mean that every claim they make is justified.
“These kinds of conversations are important,” he continues. “But this one doesn’t strike me as a big one.”
- FIRE Starter, PDF, 64.3 KB , Rocky Mountain Chronicle