Stormy Skies Ahead for Free Speech

HIGHER EDUCATION Last spring, we proved that with enough support, we have the power to change our university. After the Compton Cookout invitation went viral, stu- dents and faculty from UCSD, Compton and nearby schools came out to protest in soli- darity. With sheer numbers, UCSD sparked a revolution. But what if the students and faculty that traveled from UC Irvine, UCLA and Compton arrived only to be turned away because of a regulation that prohibited non- UCSD affiliates from protesting on campus? What if the protestors from Compton weren’t allowed to speak out and join us in solidar- ity? Would it have been as effective? Probably not.

This past month, Olympic College in Bremerton, Wash. drew attention to univer- sity free speech policies by restricting the rights of non-affiliate free speech. A non- affiliate is anyone who doesn’t take classes, teach or officially volunteer at a school.

Olympic— a public, two-year college— has declared that non-student demonstra- tors must give 48 hours notice and pro- vide a copy of materials to be distributed. Furthermore, non-affiliate protesters are limited to five hours for their demonstra- tions and can only gather in a small area called Hyde Park.

Surprisingly enough, the new regulations weren’t the reaction of uptight administra- tors, but instead were spurred by student complaints of nonstudent anti-abortion pro-testers displaying larger-than-life photos of aborted fetuses.

No one likes being told that they’re going to hell for being pro-choice, but the students are setting a dangerous precedent that they might come to regret in the future. The vague annoyance of having to tune out Library Walk’s Jesus Guy every day is not worth giving up free-speech rights. Public schools like UCSD and Olympic College should put as few restrictions as possible on free speech for citizens. While no one can fault Olympic for wanting to protect its stu- dents from stomach-turning photos, creating a one-size-fits-all restriction on protesters isn’t the answer.

If protesters are interrupting classes and hindering the students’ ability to learn, restrictions are necessary. Just as we must respect our right to free speech, as an educational institution, we must respect our peers’ right to learn.

A certain level of respect for this campus’ educational purpose must be observed. For example, the current UCSD Free Speech Policy limits amplified sound to 90 decibels, the equivalent of a heavy truck and the level at which sound damages the human ear. Also, demonstrations must not block the path of people or prevent them from arriving at their destination. Sensible restrictions such as these ensure that the exercise of one person’s rights doesn’t infringe on another’s. If people are respectfully protesting on campus, the school should have respect for the protesters’ right to be heard.

Despite the protests last spring, UCSD’s policy concerning student demonstration are liberal — but they weren’t always so progressive.

In the spring of 2007, the UCSD Free Speech Policy included a clause that any gather of students that could “reasonably be expected to attract a crowd of 10 or more people” would require a reservation from the university.

According to today’s Free Speech Policy, students can assemble or table without any type of authorization anywhere on campus. The policies for non-affiliates, however, are more restrictive, requiring permission from university officials. As we saw last year, however, exceptions can and should be made. We can only hope that if Olympic College decides to stick with its new policies, it will also use common sense in the enforcement of these rules, recognizing that there are some situations in which they can be relaxed.

Students and non-students should be able to gather anywhere that does not disrupt classes or normal university activity.

We all came to UCSD to learn and to find our path in life, but like we saw last spring, there is learning that takes place outside a classroom. College is a place to hear viewpoints you might not have been exposed to in your suburban bubble, to become aware of the people and the world surrounding you, and freedom of speech is what guarantees this exchange of ideas and positions. Schools must remember that they’re not just creating engineers and doctors, they’re nurturing the development of citizens that, today and tomorrow, will be running this country.

Additional reporting by Cheryl Hori

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