Speech Policy Met With Weak Response

    Evangelist Jed Smock, seen here addressing a crowd of students on Library Walk, is among those who may soon find their right to free speech on campus severely limited by a proposed systemwide policy. (Will Parson/Guardian)

    Two student members of the campus free-speech revision
    committee trekked to UCLA on May 28 to attend a public hearing on the proposed
    University Office of the President regulations for nonaffiliate speech and
    activity.
    The forum was scheduled for the public to comment on a new
    set of restrictions governing the speech, assembly and literature distribution
    of nonaffiliated community members. Among the new regulations is a clause
    prohibiting the public from gathering or demonstrating on university grounds
    without prior approval.

    Anticipating large crowds and public protest, Tara
    Ramanathan and Carol-Irene Southworth were disappointed to find only about 10
    people present among rows of vacant chairs.

    She blamed UCOP for the poor attendance, saying that it had
    clearly not informed the UC community as much as it should have.

    Southworth and Ramanathan — the only students at the meeting
    — attended to voice concerns and seek answers to uncertainties about the
    policy.

    While there have been rumors that the proposed regulations
    came in response to problems at UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz and UC
    Berkeley, UCOP spokesman Trey Davis said the new policy produced disruptions on
    all campuses and is an attempt to create a systemwide standard for the speech
    and activity of nonaffiliates.

    “I’m sure you could say that the last thing that happened
    [on any campus] could be responsible for the [proposed regulations], but they
    were not prompted by any single, particular incident,” Davis
    said.

    While rules are already in place for students and staff, the
    university has encountered problems when local cities or district attorneys try
    to prosecute incidents involving nonaffiliates who are not governed by campus
    policies, Davis said.

    While the UCOP proposal does not directly restrict student
    activity, it may hamper public-led efforts, Ramanathan said.

    “Our ability to increase movements and make them widespread
    is entirely dependent upon the opportunity to reach the community,” she said.

    One group that would be affected by the proposed regulations
    is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union
    representing UC patient-care and service workers, which has been involved in an
    ongoing negotiation about wages and pensions, Southworth said.

    “With the shameful way the UC is engaging in
    negotiations … we absolutely need nonaffiliates to retain their civil rights to
    demonstrate and take political action to protest injustice,” Southworth said.

    UC patient-care and service workers oppose the regulations
    because of the impact they could have on bargaining and maintaining workers’
    rights, AFSCME President Lakesha Harrison said in an e-mail.

    “[The regulations] are deeply troubling on First Amendment
    grounds and also because they propose to criminalize a wide range of activities
    that union staff members and community supporters engage in on a regular basis
    in support of UC workers’ rights,” Harrison said.

    AFSCME has demanded that the university complete bargaining
    with the union before implementing the policy.

    Davis said the
    university would undergo a careful review of all public comments made at the
    meeting along with any written comments submitted to the Office of General
    Council. Once the review process is complete, the proposed regulations will be
    sent to the UC Board of Regents for approval.

    Although the next regents meeting is scheduled for July, Davis
    said that UCOP still does not anticipate seeking policy approval before
    September.

    Considering that UCSD released its free-speech policy for
    public input during finals week of last
    year, Ramanathan said she is worried the regents will approve the policy over
    the summer while classes are not in session.

    “We can never be too
    sure of [when the policy will be approved],” Ramanathan said. “We need students
    to keep on [UCOP officials’] asses and make sure that they do not try to have
    that meeting over the summer.”

    Ramanathan added that the only way to prevent the regents
    from approving the policy is by mobilizing students to attend their meeting.

    “In my experience with the UC, when enough students show
    interest in an issue, they will feel the pressure to do something,” she said.
    “It cannot just be only [the students on the revision committee] defending free
    speech. We all have to be part of this, [because] nobody will do it for us.”

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