Proposal could broaden free speech on campus

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Travis Handy

thandy@radford.edu

The Student Government Association considered a proposal to revise the university’s policies pertaining to student expression and demonstration areas on Monday, March 28. The proposal seeks to have the Office of Student Activities adopt an open campus policy and revise the reservation policy.

According to the university’s current policy, students “are encouraged to express their views through the normal channels of communication. Students are also free to express their views by demonstrating peacefully and constructively for concepts and beliefs they wish to make known.”

Students are limited, however, with respect to where they are allowed to hold demonstrations or “peaceful assemblies” on campus. Right now the university has two designated demonstration areas: Heth Plaza and the Hurlburt Student Center Plaza. Anyone interested in demonstrating, or even handing out information or literature, must adhere to the Student Activities reservation policy.

The reservation policy is in place to manage the demonstration spaces and give the university and police departments a schedule of events that might take place on campus so that order and safety can be maintained. The proposed revision would not remove the registration and reservation process.

RU junior Elliot Blumberg recognized a need for a change in the university’s student expression and demonstration policies and authored the proposal, which is now making its way through the legislative process of the SGA.

“Students are encouraged to demonstrate in two areas,” Blumberg said. “What I want to change is to make this an open campus to encourage students to demonstrate anywhere.”

Blumberg said that there are only two areas on campus designated for free speech, which is what prompted him to draft the proposal.

“Coming in as a freshman, I heard of the demonstration areas,” Blumberg said. “If there is a place free speech isn’t allowed, then it doesn’t exist at all.”

While the university has never turned down a student or group that wanted to demonstrate on campus, Vice President for Student Affairs Mark Shanley pointed out in the meeting Monday that “colleges and universities have a constitutional right to establish time, place and manner restrictions on speech on campus.”

At this time, limiting demonstrations only to specific areas is meant to fulfill the university’s responsibility to keep the flow of campus unobstructed and to maintain a safe environment for students, faculty, staff and campus visitors. The existing rules prohibit any on-campus demonstrations from disrupting any form of class within the campus, students in their residence halls, faculty in their workstations or offices or people in designated eating areas.

As for revision of the policy, the proposal says that “university regulations should reflect an environment that is as conducive as possible to the exchange of ideas” without infringing on the rights of students, faculty and staff.

There was a period of discussion during which several senators asked for clarifications related to the language and hashed over certain implications of the policy revision.

The proposal has yet to be voted on by members of the SGA senate. A motion was made to “table” the proposal for the purpose of refining the language before it is reconsidered or brought up again for a vote, which could be as soon as next week.

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