A Bit More on Free Speech

Indiana University Southeast has a rather appalling view of the First Amendment.  One aspect of it, as Maegan Vazquez notes in a recent Fox News article is

One stipulation in the code requires that students may only “express opinions” within a free speech zone….

Yet, according to the Indiana University system’s overarching code,

In accordance with the state and federal Constitution and university policy, 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.

What the IUS’ code says on the matter is this:

  • Persons wishing to express their opinions, distribute materials or assemble on campus in accordance with the state and federal constitution in relation to their right to free speech, must submit an Application to Schedule Facilities form. … This Application should be submitted at least five (5) days prior to the event. Approval must be granted before an event can take place.


  • … The free speech area on campus is customarily in the McCullough Plaza. However, other locations which do not disrupt functions of the university may be identified by the Director of Campus Life in consultation with University Police.
  • … Materials may not be posted on campus other than the designated kiosk in the Commons.

Notice that.  IUS presumes to demand an academic week’s advance notice before an expression of opinion—a demonstration, a protest—can be conducted.  To be sure those wishing to express an opinion can appeal the decision, but only to an IUS agency—they’re forced to ask the university to overrule itself.

The university, in a statement to Fox News actually said the following with a straight face:

[The guidelines] were intended to provide some guidance on the issue so that those wishing to gather and express an opinion could do so without endangering people or property.  The guidelines also were intended to protect the rights of all students to have unfettered access to educational activities on campus (in other words, the exercise of free speech rights should not result in blocking access to buildings or disrupting classes or campus events).

Here is the university cynically ignoring the myriad of state and Federal law that already governs “endangering people or property.”  Instead, IUS wishes to engage in prior restraint: restrict legitimate activity on the idle speculation that nefarious results might—might—ensue.

Here, too, is the university cynically ignoring the fact that no small part of free political speech—that 1st Amendment bit that’s part of that confusing, older than 100 years scrap of paper that isn’t binding on anybody, anyway—is attention-getting disruptions.  They’re also ignoring that such disruptions contribute to the credibility—or its lack—of the protest message.  By insisting on controlling for themselves political speech, they’re also insisting that their non-protesting students are too stupid to draw their own conclusions about the message of the protest (which makes me wonder on what all those students are spending their college money, to be getting such shoddy teaching in critical thinking).

Associate Professor of Political Science and Dean of the School of Social Sciences at IUS, Joseph Wert, says with equal seriousness,

We have to regulate other groups who come from off campus. Some come and preach a lot of hate. We just can’t have them wandering around campus with bullhorns over here….  Governments have the right to restrict the time and place of these things….  If they were regulating content–I’d have a problem with that[.]

Let me see if I understand this.  In order to control the behavior of those with no affiliation with the university who enter the campus from outside, the good Professor actually thinks it’s necessary to regulate the speech of university students.  Never mind that the university—like all colleges and universities—have the authority to restrict access by outsiders, and to restrict the behaviors of those outsiders allowed onto campus, without at all touching student activity.

Then there’s this: when the university restricts the time and location of speech, it is perforce, regulating its content—by permitting it to be spoken at all, or not, except at a time and place of university choosing.

In the end, what we have is a university restricting even individual peaceful expressions of opinion to a specific location of the university’s choosing, at a time of its choosing.  Even simple flyers expressing free opinions are permissible only in a designated location—too small to accommodate everyone’s flyers.   Everywhere else on campus, it’s not legal under IUS’ Code to express a differing opinion.  Not at all.  Not anywhere.   Never mind that this is a direct contradiction of the Indiana University system’s governing Code.

As the Senior Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Robert Shibley, put it,

[The University is] teaching [college students] that they’re not equipped to live in a free society.

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