On Graduation Day, Remedial Lessons on Free Speech Needed at Auburn

By May 7, 2012

Auburn University senior Eric Philips is one of the more than 3,300 Auburn students being awarded their degrees today at the university’s commencement ceremonies. He has also been working with FIRE for months now to reform Auburn’s restrictive policy banning window decorations—which seems to include the Ron Paul banner he was told to remove from his window last fall, but exclude the many banners and other items fellow students have hung there without incident. As I noted recently, Auburn has recast its argument to one based on protecting the "safety, health and wellbeing" of the Auburn student population, which, if one took this claim seriously, makes Auburn look all the worse for its lax enforcement of a rule about safety. 

Now, in a letter published in the Opelika-Auburn News, Philips makes one more plea for Auburn to get the message on free speech, pointing out that the restrictions on free speech in place at Auburn extend well beyond its residence hall windows: 

Recently, officials allowed a large Obama poster to remain in place for months. This is the way it should be. The university should allow free expression for all students on all issues.

Whichever administrator decided decorative posters pose a public danger must have dreamed-up Auburn’s free speech zone. 

Tiger Cub rules relegate demonstrations, speeches and debates to a small corner of the Open Air Forum. In other words, officials must tolerate your free expression on just 0.000004 percent of campus.

Indeed, Auburn’s campus speech and demonstration policy places serious restrictions on students’ ability to demonstrate, and it places a special burden on spontaneous demonstrations or protests: 

Demonstrations, speeches, and debates may be held only in the Open Air Forum, unless special authorization for another location is secured through the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs no less than 48 hours in advance of such activity.

Auburn University has a lot of work to do to get right on free speech, and FIRE will continue to remind the school of its obligations under the First Amendment. 

Schools: Auburn University Cases: Auburn University: Ban on Ron Paul Window Hanging Exposes Double Standard