Thursday, October 01, 2009

Is Free Speech about to Take Center Stage at EKU?

Do two Op Eds in today's Eastern Progress foreshadow a period of campus unrest over the issue of free speech at EKU?

Alum, Colin Reusch, encouraged students to fight against the limitations of "free speech zones" on campus by not only [petitioning] the administration and employing Student Government to do away with the policy, but also to "treat the policy as one that is unjust. Ignore it, break it, flaunt it."

While Eastern has a new policy concerning bulletin boards and posting places, the campus is still far from a bastion of free expression. Just this week students were threatened with arrest for protesting Ben Chandler's visit to campus.

While I personally think their reasons for protesting were downright stupid, I believe in their right to do it, especially on a college campus.

I spent the better portion of my time at Eastern fighting its restrictive and likely unconstitutional policies concerning the freedom of expression (or lack thereof) on campus but I did not get much accomplished.The Student Government Association first took issue with Eastern's posting and free speech zone policies more than six years ago and has been unable to affect any real change until this past school year.

On the same page, EKU Junior Jordan Yurt called for civil disobedience.

...this Tuesday, October 6, EKU College Republicans will be hosting a campus-wide protest. However, we are requesting for students not to protest in the "free speech zones." Please meet at the Daniel Boone statue in front of Keen Johnson and we will disperse from there at 9:00 a.m. If you cannot make it at 9:00 a.m., just come out when you are able. This protest will run from 9:00 a.m. through 6:00 p.m.

We will ignore requests to stop protesting from the police and we will run the risk of being arrested. The university will not continue to dissolve us of such an unalienable and constitutional right. This is 2009, we really shouldn't have to do this.

Then Yurt closed with a phrase I hadn't heard since the 60s.
"Free your mind."

Being relatively new to campus, I was surprised to learn that all campus bulletin board postings required approval, a policy that was removed only recently. And I was ignorant of free speech zones. Personally, I always thought America was a free speech zone and I supposed 99% of our students are 18-years old and older.

I am not immune to enjoying the occasional schadenfreude moment and something inside me would be amused by seeing those who would spread lies and fear arrested (not really knowing if the our college Republicans would behave as badly as some other adults have in recent days). But alas, Reusch is correct. "Offensive and unpopular speech is the only speech that needs protecting."

So stay tuned and we'll see where this goes.


Anonymous said...

Free speech zones at a university? Tells you a lot about the university's commitement to the free exchange of ideas. EKU comes across looking second-rate.

Richard Day said...

Others will know more about this issue than I do; I haven't researched it yet. But didn't UK have a free speech corner near the students center?

I wonder if this kind of idea may exist on many campuses.

Anonymous said...

That is correct, Richard. UK does have a free speech zone near the Student Center. I remember the Christian evangelists who used to congregate there. They'd talk abd scream about carnal skin and quote from the Bible. I never understood them. I think they moved to Breckenridge County and now are school administrators who take part in rital baptism of football players.

As far as free speech at the University, most kids seem to suffer from apathy at UK. Now they did come out in full-force to protest when Dick DeCamp wanted the neighborhoods around UK to clean up their act. Overall, student protests at UK are few and far between.

Colin said...

Unfortunately, this is a common policy on many college campuses. It is also a fairly complex issue. While most free speech zone policies would probably not be struck down by the courts as they are often considered to be reasonable time place and manner restrictions, they seem to contradict the very idea of a public university as an open marketplace of ideas.