Campus Mulls Free Speech Policy Revision

    Following last spring’s student walkout protesting the decision to not rehire two dismissed Dimensions of Culture teaching assistants — and amid the chaos of Spring Quarter finals week — came a campuswide e-mail announcing the revision of a policy governing free speech and advocacy on campus.

    On June 8, students received an e-mail announcing the revision of Section IX of the university properties use policy, originally written in 1981, to outline permitted speech, advocacy and distribution of literature. The e-mail provided a link to the new proposal and asked students and staff to submit comments by June 25 — creating a two-week window, including finals week and the start of summer, to respond.

    More than 80 concerned students met with former Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson on June 11 to voice their qualms about the new policy, which would section off the campus into free-speech zones, restrict the political activity of university staff and regulate advocacy and distribution of literature.

    Some students, such as Sixth College sophomore Juan Vazquez, noted the limited time slot and pressed for a meeting with Watson. Vazquez created a Facebook.com group as well as the Web site www.ucsdfreespeech.com to inform students about the policy and mobilize students to attend the meeting. Watson met with students on June 11, and the large student mobilization caused the comment period to be extended until Dec. 1.

    The policy revision has been under development since 2001 to update the 26-year-old document in light of changes in the law regarding free speech, according to UCSD Associate Controller and committee Chair Sally Brainerd. However, some students said they believe the policy may have been rushed in response to certain controversial free speech activities of the previous year.

    Eddie Brown, director of off-campus Christian organization Justice House of Prayer San Diego, said he believes that the revision is in direct response to the group’s preaching on Library Walk and in Price Center Plaza last year.

    “The true reason UCSD is changing the free-speech policy is because for the last five months they have been subject to hearing the word of God being taught and exclaimed,” Brown said last June.

    Brown often came to UCSD to meet with Christian students to publicly preach about God and Christianity, several times facing visits from the police or having University Centers administrators silence them due to alleged free-speech violations.

    Former graduate student Jeff Wong said in an e-mail that he was stopped from speaking on the round stage in Price Center by University Centers Director Paul Terzino last March, supposedly for violating free speech and sound amplification rules, although he was using no amplification.

    Wong said he approached University Centers administration to inquire about the violation, and they responded that they were working on new rules to fix that discrepancy. He said they accused him of breaking part of the new policy that forbids any person from being an involuntary audience member or participant of an event.

    “They effectively told me that because people didn’t like what I was speaking on that I had to stop,” Wong said. “I have never seen in the Constitution the part about only saying things that people agree with.”

    Terzino said he could not remember the encounters, but said that the Price Center Plaza is event space that must be reserved by filling out a form 15 days in advance.

    “The reason Mr. Brown or Mr. Wong would have been asked to leave is because they were using the plaza for a program without a reservation,” Terzino said.

    Exhibit A of the policy revision outlines “designated public forums” on campus where free speech is permitted without reservation, including Revelle Plaza, Muir College quad, and Warren Mall — along with other college quads, grassy areas and plazas. The policy also allows free speech in other outdoor areas 25 feet from building entrances and away from campus roads “with the exception of program space, such as athletics fields, Price Center Plaza and Library Walk, which are subject to separate rules and regulations governing their use.”

    Such areas are activity spaces administered by campus departments responsible for scheduling them according to the venues’ intended purposes, Brainerd said in an e-mail.

    Brainerd said that the use policies for Price Center and Library Walk are on the University Centers Web site, but the policy for Price Center only addresses sound amplification rules.

    “The Plaza is and always has been a reservable programmable space and falls under the same guidelines as spaces such as the ballroom, theater, etc.” Terzino said. “We need to update some of the language on the Web site and include the programmable spaces such as the ballroom, theater and plaza in explaining our policies.”

    Some students and concerned observers have questioned the constitutionality of dividing the campus up in terms of free speech. Samantha Harris, director of Legal and Public Advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, sent a letter to UCSD on June 22, addressing the concern.

    “Establishing ‘free speech zones,’ as UCSD seeks to do here, undermines the fundamental conception of the American public university as a true marketplace of ideas,” Harris said.

    Brainerd said that representatives from the A.S. Council and the Graduate Student Association have recently been invited to join the revision committee.

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