To Protect Freedom, Students Must Read Fine Print

    (Jackie Swanson/Guardian)

    STUDENT LIFE — A glimmer of free speech illuminated UCSD’s
    bleakly restrictive scenery on Jan. 31, as student representatives from the
    free-speech policy revision committee released an updated policy proposal. And
    things were looking pretty promising until word of the University Centers
    Advisory Board’s own Price Center-governing speech policy promptly extinguished
    that flicker.

    The trouble first started last spring, when university
    administrators pumped out a draconian policy during finals week. Luckily, once
    students looked up from their books, they were able to successfully protest the
    changes, and a committee was formed to review the policies. The committee,
    which has met extensively with various on-campus groups including the A.S.
    Council, has now presented a vaguely overarching solution that reads more like
    a wide-eyed mission statement — the document even includes a preamble. But
    while the new proposal is a vast improvement, it fails to specifically answer
    the original question: What protected speech rights do students have?

    In comes the new UCAB policy, which coupled with an
    already-existing section in the student conduct code, creates tempting
    loopholes for administrators trying to circumvent the new proposal. In order to
    truly protect constitutional rights, the committee needs to directly address
    and integrate these other documents. While committee members have said their
    policy will supercede all others, its vague language isn’t promising.

    Carol-Irene Southworth, the A.S. representative to the
    committee, said the group purposely chose broad wording in order to protect
    students’ rights. But by being intentionally unspecific, the committee is
    knowingly opening its policy up for administrative abuse. With something as
    important as freedom at stake there is no room for question, and it is the
    committee’s duty to present the most airtight document possible.

    It’s clear from their shady actions last year regarding free
    speech that UCSD administrators are just looking for ways to thwart student
    freedom, and this is why the new UCAB policy must be addressed immediately.
    Without repealing the Price Center Plaza Limited Forum Policy, students’ rights
    are not protected in the place they are most likely to congregate — the very
    heart of campus.

    Apparently, we can’t even trust our fellow students to come
    up with an appropriate policy that will protect our rights. UCAB, comprised
    largely of undergraduates, proved to be just as underhanded as university
    officials when it ignored student protests against the original administrative
    rewrite, and passed its own equally oppressive Price Center policy in the face
    of the revision committee.

    UCAB members such as Arian Mashhood and Vice Chair Lana
    Blank felt their policy was suitable because they didn’t like having to hear
    people yell about their ideas during lunch.

    “We feel like Price
    is for UCSD, not just
    anyone,” Blank told the Guardian.

    Forget for a moment that the board’s restrictive policy
    does, in fact, limit UCSD affiliates — Blank’s assertion still is dead wrong.
    UCSD is a public institution and its grounds are public space. Perhaps a look
    at the recent court case affecting the nearby Fashion Valley Mall will help
    clear up any misunderstandings — in a similar debate where mall officials wanted
    to regulate protestors, the California Supreme Court ruled that mall space,
    though privately owned, was a space for the public, and thus the court upheld
    free speech.

    UCAB’s Price Center
    policy outlaws, among other things, “public speaking activities that generate
    excessive noise,” but fails to explain what qualifies as excessive. It puts an
    end to student protests, crushes impromptu gatherings — better get that
    reservation! — and even has the capacity to ban boisterous students from the
    plaza. This infringement upon freedom of speech and assembly was approved
    without question by a board featuring many of UCSD’s student leaders.

    And all this comes in spite of the progress made by the
    revision committee. Though new-proposal advocates like Southworth should be
    applauded for their effort to reform the spring 2007 policy and protect
    students’ rights, they shouldn’t be content yet. Addressing the UCAB policy
    should be the committee’s foremost concern in its attempt streamline speech
    policies and support freedom.

    The bottom line is that students need to keep a watchful eye
    on not only administrators but also other students — if we don’t protect our
    rights, no one else will.

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