‘Free Speech Zones’ on Campus: Hawaii to Harvard Fear Tomorrow’s Free Thinkers

April 26, 2014

By Jacquie Kubin at Communities Digital News

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2014 — What does the school  where you are sending your student and your money stand for? According to Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post, colleges are dens of liberal ideology:

“By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.”

A 2011 New York Times article by John Tierney suggests that those percentages have hardly budged.

A number of news articles have appeared in recent months about the creation of “free speech zones” on university campuses. These are often small, isolated areas well away from campus thoroughfares, designated as areas in which students may engage in “expressive activities” without the risk of disturbing other students or faculty.

In reality, these areas are designed to stifle speech by isolating it so that it can’t be heard by anyone who doesn’t seek it out. If one area is a “free speech zone,” then everywhere else on campus is a restricted speech zone. Conservative students charge speech zones are specifically designed to stifle those who do not adhere to the dominant liberal ideology of most college campuses.

According to a report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), one-in-six of 427 schools surveyed — about 70 — relegates unapproved public speech to “free speech zones.”

The FIRE report claims further than 59 percent of the schools surveyed endorse policies that impede First Amendment rights, which they define as “at least one policy both clearly and substantially restricting freedom of speech, or barring public access to its speech-related policies by requiring a university log-in and password for access.”  Another 36 percent have policies that “over regulate” speech on campus.

Colleges seem to be doing everything in their power to limit the scope of free speech and the spread of ideas that do not fit the template colleges wish to promote.

According to FIRE president Greg Lukianoff, “So far this academic year, students have twice been prohibited from distributing the Constitution on a public campus, less than four months apart. That is absolutely unacceptable.” He adds, “The First Amendment is not optional at public colleges — it’s the law. Enforcing restrictive ‘free speech zone’ policies that prevent students from passing out copies of the Constitution is impossible to justify.”

The ability of young people to speak out about injustice has long been a force behind social, political and legal change in the United States. Many college professors and administrators today were undergraduates in the 1960s and 70s, a time when colleges were major engines of change. Their attitude today suggests that they believe that everything that needed to be said on campus was said by them, and that students today should just shut up and listen.

Before we support colleges by sending them our children and ever more enormous amounts of money, we need to know where they stand on the issue of constitutional freedoms, especially free speech. It is grotesque that colleges and universities — crucial players in America’s marketplace of ideas — would restrict speech, the very currency of that marketplace.

The University of Hawaii joins an ever-growing list of academic institutions that restrict students’ speech rights. Among the worst, according to FIRE, are Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Michigan State. Two UH-Hilo students are suing their university after they were told to stop distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution on the school’s grounds.

Merritt Burch, president of the the UH-Hilo chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, filed a suit that alleges, “on January 16, 2014, plaintiff Merritt Burch … and a fellow student YAL member were participating in an outdoor event where student groups set up tables to distribute literature. Observing other students walking around and handing out items, Burch and her friend walked out from behind YAL’s table to likewise hand out Constitutions and YAL information cards. A UH Hilo administrator ordered Burch and her companion to stop approaching students and get back behind their table, dismissing Burch’s protest about her constitutional rights.”

The University of Hawaii shuttles free speech to a zone described as a “small, muddy, frequently-flooded area on the edge of campus.” Burch and Anthony Vizzone were told that if they wanted to protest, the proper place to do so would be in UH Hilo’s free speech zone. “This isn’t really the ’60s anymore,” they were told. “People can’t really protest like that anymore.”

Administrators like that one have either forgotten the changes wrought by 1960’s campus protestors, or they remember them all too well and want to avoid a repeat by students whose ideas they distrust.

Student speech on campuses was central to social change, including, from Lessonsite.com :

The Civil Rights Movement: In 1964, pressured by the civil rights movement and under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited segregation in public accommodations and made discrimination in education and employment illegal. In 1965 Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which suspended the use of any voter qualification devices that prevented blacks from voting. College students played a prominent role in protesting for civil rights on their campuses, and they added their voices to a movement that changed America.

The Anti-Vietnam War Movement: Colleges and universities were among the most important sites of antiwar activism. Protests against the war took many forms: marches, boycotts and demonstrations. A key event took place at the University of Michigan in March 1965. Students and professors held a teach-in on Vietnam, where people gathered to examine America’s Vietnam policy and discuss what they might do to change that policy. Within months, more than 120 schools held similar events. This spirit of questioning authority and determining how common citizens could affect policy-makers was at the core of the antiwar movement.

The Women’s Movement: The women’s movement was not a unified force with a single ideology or goal. Some activists fought for equal job opportunities; others focused on changing relations between men and women. They questioned traditional gender roles and tried to change society’s view that a woman’s worth was based on her physical attractiveness. An important issue for many women was control over their bodies. Abortion was illegal in almost all states, rapes were rarely prosecuted, and domestic violence was widely accepted as a private matter. Some radical activists believed that American society would have to be entirely remade.

Environmental Movement: In 1970, some 20 million Americans gathered for what organizers called Earth Day to protest abuse of the environment. Borrowing a tactic from the anti-Vietnam War movement, students and teachers at over 1500 colleges and universities and at over 10,000 schools held teach-ins on the environment. Hundreds of thousands of other Americans staged protests and rallies around the nation. In another clear sign of a new environmental consciousness, millions of people joined groups like the Audubon Society, whose membership grew from 41,000 in 1962 to 400,000 in 1980.

Now, not only are schools prohibiting free speech on campus, but on students’ private social media pages.  Syracuse School of Education recently expelled a graduate student from its teaching program following a Facebook post that administrators considered inappropriate.

Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) is the largest, most active, and fastest-growing pro-liberty organization on America’s college campuses. With more than 500 YAL chapters and 162,000 youth activists nationwide, YAL seeks to educate, train and mobilize young people committed to winning on principle.

This is not a new beginning, but a continuation of a youth movement already brewing in this country. YAL’s objective is to facilitate its success. Please take a moment to watch this video and use the links in the right column of this page to learn more about YAL.

Schools: University of Hawaii at Hilo Cases: University of Hawaii at Hilo – Speech Code Litigation