Nassau Community College Affirms Free Speech Rights for Faculty in Response to FIRE

By September 8, 2011

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the quick resolution to a free speech controversy at Nassau Community College (NCC) in New York once FIRE intervened. On two separate occasions, faculty who had gathered in the NCC Plaza area to protest recent budgetary decisions by the college were required to remain behind metal barricades during their demonstrations, and NCC security officials placed other odd restrictions on them. For their first protest on July 20, the faculty had notified NCC that they were going to protest in the Plaza area, but when they arrived they were notified that they were restricted to a small part of the plaza "to facilitate your planned demonstration." The notice also stated:

Any person leaving the designated area with the intent to protest will be warned that he/she must return to the enclosed area. If that person persists, his/her right to remain on the campus may be forfeited.

Making matters worse, the faculty protesters were not allowed to distribute leaflets supporting their cause because, they were told, the flyers had not been approved by NCC’s student government.

At their second protest, on August 3, they were prohibited from taking their hand-held posters (see photo below) outside the designated protest zone.

Fortunately, FIRE had this matter cleared up in time for the group’s third rally on August 17, and the faculty encountered none of the prior restrictions-not even the barricades that had fenced them in like so much livestock.

Now, we also can report that NCC General Counsel Chuck Cutolo has responded to FIRE’s August 16 letter to NCC President Donald P. Astrab. We’re all pretty much on the same page with regard to the free speech rights of the faculty. The notice that NCC provided to the faculty just before its August 17 rally does far better in delineating their First Amendment rights.

In particular, the notice stated that they were free to "distribute leaflets or carry signs" anywhere in the Plaza, with the main condition being that the faculty "do not interfere, encumber [or] obstruct the entranceway or exit of any building." That’s fine. It was perhaps too restrictive for NCC to declare that "not more than two individuals may distribute leaflets or carry signs immediately proximate to the entrance/exitway of each building abutting the College Plaza," but it seems that most of the protesters wanted to be in the main plaza area anyway:

I presume that NCC faculty members are smart enough to know how to protest without breaking the law. Nevertheless, we appreciate NCC’s quick response and its acknowledgment of its responsibility to protect free speech rights on campus.

Cases: Nassau Community College: Free Speech Zone