At Least the Students Get It

By on February 24, 2006

The University of Nevada at Reno (UNR) can claim the shameful distinction of having the Speech Code of the Month for August of last year. Accordingly, it is also a “red light” school on FIRE’s Spotlight, which points out the numerous restrictions the university places upon its students, many of them having to do with “offensive” conduct and speech clearly protected under the First Amendment—unless you are a student at UNR.

Yet some of UNR’s other policies are also extraordinarily prohibitive, if not downright odd. If a student wants to post a flyer, it must be on a designated “Public View Bulletin Board” after having been approved by the Scheduling Services Office. There are size and language restrictions, you cannot post anonymously, and if you would like to post a non-university related announcement, be prepared to shell out $20 in order to do so. But make sure your check doesn’t bounce, because then you will not be allowed to post anything for another year. Oh, and include a disclaimer saying that the university does not endorse your message, and that your flyer was not printed or distributed at state expense. Students must also refrain from handing anything out to people without specifically reserving a site prearranged through the scheduling office.

Which brings us to another favorite of university administrators everywhere: the free speech zone. UNR calls them “public forums,” but by designating a mere four of them on a campus of 200 acres, it creates a truly sad state of affairs for free speech. Even more so when you consider that these four zones all require that the person responsible for any event held there possess an application with signed approval. Maybe that is why they don’t call them “free speech zones”—even in these zones, speech is restricted.

But the times, they are a-changin’. According to The Nevada Sagebrush, the ACLU of Nevada has approached Provost John Frederick to reconsider the university’s current policy of free speech zones. Executive Director Gary Peck hopes at the very least the university will make more areas available for free speech. Frederick has said he will look at the opinions of certain campus groups before making a decision; the Graduate Student Association was quick to voice its own in the following resolution passed Wednesday:

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE GRADUATE STUDENT ASSOCIATION OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO

WHEREAS the First Amendment to the United States Constitution insures the people’s right to free speech and to assemble to exercise that right and thereby applies to every individual on Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) campuses which are funded, in part, with federal tax revenue, and

WHEREAS sections nine and ten of the Nevada State Constitution further guarantee that "no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech" and that "the people shall have the right freely to assemble together to consult for the common good," and

WHEREAS NSHE campuses have certain provisions of the codes and regulations that govern the exercise of free speech on the NSHE network of campuses, and show no conformity of policies regarding First Amendment rights between those the campuses, and

WHEREAS “free speech zones” are a form of censorship and have been created expressly to limit freedom of speech, expression, and the right to assemble, to specific areas, such as at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) campus that relegates these lawful free speech activities and assembly to four commons areas on the UNR campus, in Administrative Handbook, Section 5,303, and

WHEREAS the expression of free speech or the right to assemble are not inherently disruptive of the academic process, nor do they endanger the safety of members of our campus communities, as there is already a zero-tolerance policy against violence and incivility in place on NSHE campuses, and

WHEREAS the essence of public discourse, intellectual inquiry, and academic freedom lie at the heart of higher education through the exercise of free speech and assembly, and are the salient principles upon which this nation was founded; the hallmarks of a democratic society, and we affirm these as integral and vital to our teaching and learning communities,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the UNR Graduate Student Association calls upon Nevada’s Board of Regents and all other student governing bodies statewide, to honor the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and sections nine and ten of the Nevada State Constitution, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we are affirming said rights of all individuals on NSHE campuses by encouraging all interested parties to negotiate the establishment and protection of the whole of each campus as public fora.

COPIES of this resolution will be sent to the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, NSHE Presidents, NSHE Faculty Senates, and NSHE Graduate and Undergraduate Student Associations and Senates.

FIRE hopes that more students and faculty on campus will come forward to support a university environment where free speech is the norm, rather than the exception. Perhaps those in the Nevada area can let Provost John Frederick know how they feel about the issue as well.

Schools: University of Nevada, Reno