The right to speak out – in the residence halls and around campus – has become a lot easier after CSU revised three of its free speech policies.
The university’s advertising policy now prohibits only “obscene language” while the peaceful assembly policy has been modified to protect free speech anywhere on campus, not just the Lory Student Center plaza /- the “primary public forum pace,” according to the old policy.
And the hate incidents policy, which previously prohibited “expressions of hostility,” now only restricts blatant harassment and abuse in residence halls – a distinction one first amendment watchdog group says needed to made.
“This is an exciting day for free speech at Colorado State,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, in a statement earlier this month. “By making these changes, the administration has proven it is serious about protecting its students’ First Amendment rights, and we commend the university.”
The process to overhaul the three speech codes began around November’s election when the CSU Libertarians, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and CSU Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) were campaigning in favor of Amendment 44, a failed statewide initiative to legalize marijuana.
The groups posted flyers in the residence halls urging people to go out and vote in favor of Amendment 44. The university banned the groups’ use of the posters because marijuana leafs were printed on them.
Last March, FIRE sent a letter to CSU President Larry Penley charging him and the university with stripping students’ first amendment rights. The letter caused a stir among the student leaders, including the Associated Students of CSU.
ASCSU passed a resolution in support of re-examining the free speech policies, and CSU officials said they would review the rules.
University lawyers said last April that CSU didn’t plan to abolish the policy, maintaining that the distribution of pamphlets featuring drugs and alcohol on campus and in the dorms wasn’t protected.
“If we had taken the policies to court the university clearly would have lost,” said Seth Anthony, a graduate student and former chairman of the CSU Libertarians, who at the time were spearheading for the changes. “Obviously the university doesn’t like bad press; they didn’t want an article saying they restrict students’ speech.”
The university’s actions, Anthony said, were blocking political freedom of speech, and needed to be changed.
“You couldn’t advertise a debate about lowering the drinking age or drug policy [in the residence halls],” Anthony said. “With this in place we really don’t have a policy where we can have free discussion.”
Staff writer Brian Park can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.