Opinion: Free Speech Zone is Not So Free

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In 2002, Pat Bosco was quoted by The Collegian as saying, “The whole campus here, historically, has been a free speech zone. Period. End of story. Good night.” However, as our policies show, this is not the case.

The mere existence of Bosco Student Plaza as a specifically designated “free speech zone” contradicts his statement. Since this is a public university, funded by tax dollars, the school has no right to curtail our First Amendment rights by telling us where we can and cannot say what we want, when we want to.

Our campus has been given a “red” free speech code rating by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that advocates for the First Amendment rights of students across the nation. They issue campuses ratings of either green, yellow or red, green being the freest and red being the most restricted.

“A ‘red light’ institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech,” FIRE’s website said. “A ‘clear’ restriction is one that unambiguously infringes on what is or should be protected expression. In other words, the threat to free speech at a red light institution is obvious on the face of the policy and does not depend on how the policy is applied.”

In particular, a few policies stick out. According to the policy outlining the use of K-State grounds and buildings on K-State’s website, if a student group wants to host an event on campus, “A Facilities Request for Use of University Buildings and Grounds form (Attachment 200) shall be completed and submitted to the Assistant Vice President for Facilities at least ONE WEEK in advance of the requested activity.”

That may not seem too restrictive at first, but think about it. If you want to host a protest because of an relevant, recent issue, you better know you want to do it a week beforehand. That is to say, it is virtually impossible to coordinate your event in real-time. And even then, the university can deny your request. That doesn’t sound very free.

Even worse, according to our Student Groups On-Campus Event Policy, “(E)vents that are scheduled by registered student organizations which may be controversial in nature or include involvement from high profile public figures will also be expected to adhere to the following policy … The necessity of a full-time police officer shall be determined by the facilities representative at the Pre-Planning Meeting. Should full-time officers be required for the event, they will be expected to monitor inside and outside the event as deemed necessary by the Campus Police Representative at the Pre-Planning Meeting. Additional officers may be required for an event based on past history of the group and/or event and anticipated turnout of people. The sponsoring organization will be responsible for the costs incurred from hiring campus police, unless determined otherwise at the Pre-Planning Meeting.”

The wording of this policy is left intentionally vague with no clear distinction of what is and what is not controversial. For example, I’m personally offended by the pro-life crosses that get stuck in the grass around the campus from time to time, and see it as controversial. I know there are others who agree with me. But, we’re in a conservative state that holds conservative values. That is not to say, however, that I would rather have the university not allow them to express themselves freely.

If the university decides that they don’t agree with your event and would rather have it not happen, they can label it as controversial in nature and then, BAM. You’re required to pay for a police presence. I don’t know about you, but I sure can’t afford that. And if you go through with said event and police show up to provide security and you’re unable to pay, then hello account holds. Get ready for delays in enrollment, graduation and things of that sort.

These are only two in a slew of various policies and regulations impeding free speech on our great campus that contribute to our fire red rating.

When presented with these and other policies, a student wanting to host an event may write the idea off completely before even trying to get it set up. The fact that this is possible at a public university is a travesty. This, if any other, is the place for voices that go against the grain. College is about expanding your knowledge base and opening yourself up to new ways of thinking, not restrictions on these things because they may be offensive to some people.

Jacob Valdez is a sophomore of mass communications. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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