A Fresh Look at Claremont McKenna’s Speech Code

By on March 12, 2009

I recently reported on two Claremont McKenna College (CMC) students who were "banned" from Pomona College after they asked questions of a Planned Parenthood representative during a publicly advertised event. They videotaped their questions and the answers, and they turned off the recorder after being asked to do so. But a week later, they were publicly disgraced (though not by name) by two Pomona deans for having been "disruptive" and "attempting to create an antagonistic space." Pomona and CMC are closely related neighbors in the Claremont University Consortium, which offers benefits and privileges to students enrolled at any of the Claremont Colleges. Being banned from one of the campuses is a serious punishment that interrupts a student’s educational experience.

Fortunately, after a bit of delay, CMC came to the defense of its own students. CMC President Pamela Gann sent the CMC community a public apology that vindicated the rights of CMC students to freedom of speech and due process at Pomona College. Gann wrote that "I completely share the concerns expressed that this action was inconsistent with Claremont McKenna College’s understanding and application of the free speech and due process rights that exist for CMC students and that should be respected for all students at The Claremont Colleges." She also wrote that "in the absence of some showing of a particularized threat to its campus, it would be inappropriate for any member of The Claremont Colleges to ban a student from a sister institution without first providing appropriate due process" and that "the ban [in this case] was inappropriate."

Let’s now take a look at CMC’s own speech code which, among other things, bans "verbal actions which … disgrace another person." Even worse, the speech doesn’t have to actually succeed in disgracing someone; it only needs to "tend to cause such effects." Did President Gann’s public rebuke of two Pomona deans, which both tends to disgrace them and probably in fact disgraces them, violate CMC’s own policy against disgracing others with "verbal actions"? It sure seems that way, which demonstrates the absurdity not of President Gann’s speech but of the speech code itself.

Another CMC policy that conflicts with basic freedom of speech is its Posting/Publicity Policy, which requires prior review and permission for postings: "Any material to be posted publicly by students must be approved first by the Director of Student Activities in the Dean of Students Office."

Suppose someone wanted to put up a poster that disgraced certain Pomona deans for banning two CMC students from Pomona’s campus in violation of the students’ rights. I suppose the Director of Student Activities would have to ban it!

At this moment of appreciation for the free speech rights of CMC students, perhaps now is a good time for President Gann to fix up its restrictive speech code.

Schools: Claremont McKenna College