‘Mustang Daily’ Reports on FIRE Speech at Cal Poly

By February 24, 2010

The Mustang Daily, a student newspaper at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), has an excellent article about Adam’s speech there last Wednesday. As I related here before Adam’s speech, Cal Poly has a long and sordid history regarding free speech on campus. Adam discussed Cal Poly’s yellow light speech code rating, making the school better than most in terms of policies, according to FIRE’s latest report—while Cal Poly’s many free speech controversies and violations in practice make Cal Poly far below average. Even a "yellow light" is not suitable, however, especially at a state institution. The Mustang summarizes Adam’s comments:

[Y]ellow light policies regarding student rights, like the ones at Cal Poly, can have a chilling effect on speech due to ambiguous wording. When the phrasing or language involved in a policy allows subjective interpretation, students can be unclear about what rights they might or might not have, he said. From there, administration can apply the policies as they see fit.

Adam also discussed Cal Poly’s confrontations with FIRE, beginning with the case of Steve Hinkle:

In 2002, Hinkle, then a Cal Poly student and member of the Cal Poly College Republicans, was putting up posters in the University Union (UU) promoting a black social critic the club was bringing to campus to talk about his new book. A Christian group gathering in the UU [University Union] before a meeting said they found the posters offensive. An argument started and escalated until the authorities were called. Hinkle was punished by Cal Poly for "disrupting an event" and was asked [actually, he was required] to apologize to the individuals he offended.

Ultimately, Hinkle sued the university and after a year and a half the case was settled. Cal Poly paid Hinkle’s legal fees, which Kissel said were about $40,000, and dropped all charges.

Other incidents include censorship of Smile and Nod posters, the attempted establishment of CARE-Net (a bias-reporting program for "politically incorrect" speech), and the Crop House incident, where Cal Poly may have coerced student residents to vacate the Crop House after students complained about a Halloween noose with a hanging skeleton from a corn maze appearing near a Confederate flag outside the house.

CFN faculty member Laura Freberg, Cal Poly psychology professor and College Republicans adviser, told the paper, "Personally I would want the university to really attend to the expertise of FIRE. You don’t want to have another Steve Hinkle case. You don’t want (the university) to be on the national news as that case was…. I would want to see Cal Poly do what they need to do to get into that green light position."

Let’s hope Cal Poly listens this time. We will be sending administrators some copies of FIRE’s Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies, which should help Cal Poly get from yellow to green.

Schools: California Polytechnic State University