Art and Free Speech Guidelines at Stanford

By April 23, 2008

Following the removal of a photo exhibit by Students Confronting Apartheid in Israel, members of Stanford’s student senate have called for the university to implement free speech guidelines. The photo exhibit was removed because the pictures included captions that were not pre-approved.

Provost John Etchemendy published an op-ed in the Daily Stanford today arguing that the Old Union, where the photo exhibit was to be held, was not the appropriate forum for the display. He said that the captions introduced a "political edge" that was not appropriate for the Old Union, which should serve as a sort of "living room" for all students on campus. He wrote:

Although I am sympathetic to many of the group’s concerns, the Stanford community should understand that the decision here has nothing to do with free speech. The problem is that what is appropriate free expression in one context on campus is not in another.

We at FIRE hope that whatever guidelines are introduced will clearly protect student expression. Stanford student Adam Hudson who attended the meeting said it best: "[I]t is a student union, it should be open to all students, and every student should feel confident saying their own opinion."