Sam Houston State University Throws Out Controversial Social Media Policy

By November 17, 2011

Last month, FIRE announced via a national press release that a professor at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) had used a box cutter to cut an insult against President Obama out of a "free speech wall" promoted by four student organizations across the political spectrum. The free speech wall had been erected (with permission from SHSU) in order to protest a proposed new social media policy. But when the students called the campus police after the professor’s act of censorship (and vandalism), an officer demanded that the students censor the wall or else face criminal charges for having offended the professor. SHSU thus far has failed to reassure students that their speech is protected against such unconstitutional police action, and SHSU has yet to reform its unconstitutional speech code banning public profanity. The good news is that SHSU has reportedly abandoned its proposed social media policy and will start from scratch.

According to a report by Stephen Green in student newspaper The Houstonian yesterday, the social media policy has been "eliminated." He quotes SHSU Student Government Association representative Steven Perry saying:

The [social media] committee ultimately decided that instead of amending the proposed policy, we would rebuild it from the ground up to best affect the needs of both the University and the student body.

That’s good news, indeed. The most problematic part of the now-discarded policy from a free speech perspective was the requirement that student organizations turn over their social media passwords, so that SHSU officials could censor postings that were inconsistent with SHSU’s corporate message. (For posterity, key excerpts from the policy are posted on FIRE’s website.) The best that could be said for the proposed policy was that it brought people together: the policy was a problem that the campus Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, and democratic socialists all could agree on, as student organizations representing all of these viewpoints had cosponsored the free speech wall in protest of the policy.

Let’s hope that SHSU doesn’t bring back any of the unconstitutional provisions from the discredited policy. Meanwhile, FIRE is still waiting for SHSU President Dana Gibson to reassure students that the campus police will no longer threaten criminal charges against protected speech. Until then, free speech remains unsafe at Sam Houston State University.

Schools: Sam Houston State University Cases: Sam Houston State University: Faculty Member Takes Box Cutter to Students’ Free Speech Wall; Police Threaten Students with Misdemeanor