Protest outside free speech zone lands students in trouble

December 16, 2005

Two University of North Carolina at Greensboro students face disciplinary hearings for staging a protest about the campus “free speech zones” outside the free speech zones.

The students, Allison Jaynes and Robert Sinnott, helped organize the rally of about 40 people Nov. 16 on a lawn in front of the campus library, according to the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has intervened on the students’ behalf.

When a school official told Jaynes to move to a free speech zone, she refused and was later charged, along with Sinnott, with a campus violation. Jaynes, a senior physics major, said the punishment could range from a warning to probation with restrictions.

“Our concern (about free speech zones) is that it’s another way for them to be able to filter speech on campus,” Jaynes said Friday. “A lot of people don’t know this rule and get in trouble for speaking freely or holding a demonstration somewhere else on campus when it’s their First Amendment right to be doing this.”

The school has two free speech areas set up on campus. If anyone wants to hold an assembly in those areas, they must give two days’ notice.

If students want to hold an assembly in any other part of the campus, they must make an advance request and a school official will review it, university attorney Lucien Capone said. The requests are evaluated on whether the space is available and whether the use of the space will interfere with university operations, not on content, Capone said.

Capone would not speak directly about Jayne’s or Sinnott’s cases Friday but in a letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said the campus values “freedom of speech as one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution and as the best means for arriving at truth and mutual understanding.”

“By the same token, we believe that reasonable time, place and manner regulations are essential to preserving that right lest there be free speech for no one,” Capone wrote.

Capone said Friday that Chancellor Patricia A. Sullivan last month had called for the creation of a committee of staff, faculty and students to look at the campus’ outdoor assembly policy.

Jaynes said she is planning another protest next semester if the school has not changed its policy.

“We’ve gotten a great response from the community because of this and I think it’s very important that everyone is aware of this,” Jaynes said.

Schools: University of North Carolina – Greensboro Cases: University of North Carolina at Greensboro: Punishment of Free Speech Protestors