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Ron Collins on ‘Dystopian,’ ‘Destructive’ Folly of Campus Free Speech Zones

By on November 8, 2013

Over at Concurring Opinions, noted legal scholar and author Ron Collins has penned a compelling look at the folly of campus free speech zones. Collins writes:

Free speech zone – It is shorthand for holding two contradictory opinions while believing in both of them. Incongruous logic, to be sure. And yet, that is the mindset that too many public college administrators impose on students in an attempt to make them believe that the best way to honor the First Amendment is by abridging it. They do so by restricting student speech to tiny “free speech zones” and by strictly controlling access thereto.

Such Orwellian doublethink is dystopian in principle and destructive in practice. Worse still, though many such policies are patently unconstitutional, an unfortunate number of university lawyers defend them until legally contested or fought out in court, whereupon taxpayers flip a hefty bill for their unconstitutional actions. Nonetheless, no one holds these public servants to account for their transgressions.

Taking FIRE’s courtroom victory over the University of Cincinnati’s former free speech zone as an example, Collins points out that it took a lawsuit to force change:

Cases in point: As late as 2012, the University of Cincinnati’s policy limited all “demonstrations, pickets, and rallies” to a “Free Speech Area” comprising just 0.1% of the university’s 137-acre West Campus. Much the same logic informed a Texas Tech University rule that once confined First Amendment activities to a single 20 foot-diameter gazebo – this for a campus of 28,000 students! Both policies were unconstitutional, but they were abandoned only after lawyers representing students took action.

Such examples are hardly past tense. Take Southeastern Louisiana University’s policy. It limits student speech to two hours every seven days and designates three areas of campus for assembly. The policy likewise requires a full week’s advance notice for assemblies and obliges all applicants to provide their birth date and Social Security number.

Collins further discusses FIRE’s ongoing litigation at Modesto Junior College, including quotes from both FIRE President Greg Lukianoff and Davis Wright Tremaine attorney Bob Corn-Revere. Check out the piece in full!

Schools: Modesto Junior College University of Cincinnati