Administration balances protecting free speech with condemning hate speech

Phillip Carroll, Sophomore in Computer Science, takes a look at the bulletin board to check on upcoming events at the quad on October 3rd, 2017. (Photo by Kelly Pham | Collegian Media Group)

White nationalist posters appeared across campus Sept. 13, prompting widespread outrage from students and conversations on the nature of the freedom of speech on a college campus.

Although the posters were not necessarily removed by university officials, they would have been allowed to remain up, had they gone through the proper channels and received approval from K-State’s Division of Facilities, according to university regulations.

The policies state that any individual wishing to use the bulletin boards, indoors and outdoors, must have all posts accepted and approved by the Division of Facilities as well as the approval of each building in which the individual wishes to place his or her posters.

According to chapter 8570 of K-State’s publicity regulations, content of posts on campus bulletin boards “shall be free of statements, illustrations, or implications which are libelous or obscene.”

“In accordance with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, K-State does not regulate posters based on viewpoint. However, content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions can be imposed,” said Loleta Stump, customer service director for the Division of Facilities.

Although K-State policy does not permit harmful, derogatory or insulting information toward any group in particular to be posted on campus, the university cannot legally dictate someone’s viewpoint in any way.

“As hard as it is to imagine someone having this opinion and being able to voice it, the First Amendment is a given right, and it’s the same right that allows me to voice my opposition towards these kinds of views, so we must find a common ground amongst ourselves and sometimes agree to disagree,” Taylor Brandenberger, junior in arts and sciences, said.

After the surfacing of white supremacist posters on campus in September, Jack Ayres and Olivia Baalman, student body president and vice president, released a statement, which read, in part:

“These are acts of discrimination and they are not tolerable on our campus. This could be your opinion, and yes you are entitled to your own opinion. But we want to clearly state that we disagree with it. This university must harbor a safe and inclusive place.”

In an email interview, Pat Bosco, vice president for student life, said free speech can also be balanced with promoting respect on university campuses.

“I have always been a huge purist when it comes to the First Amendment, so while we will protect speech on the campus, we must take every opportunity to express in the strongest manner our university’s position of respect, diversity, inclusion and equity,” Bosco said. “Hateful speech is not speaking for my school but is protected speech. It also does not in any manner represent my school and I will do everything I can to take advantage of a teachable moment and hopefully be much louder than any protected speech that I believe to repugnant and against everything we are committed to as a K-State family.”

According to university regulations, “only Office of Student Activities and Services or Division of Facilities personnel, or an entity of their designation, shall have the authority to remove posters.”