SGA seeks campus-wide free speech

February 5, 2008

What do Sanford Mall, Duck Pond Field, Durham Park and the open-air amphitheater outside Plemmons Student Union have in common?

They are currently the four locations where students can enjoy unscheduled protests on Appalachian State University’s campus.

The SGA Senate voted at its Jan. 29 meeting in favor of new legislation that would revise the current policy to make the entire campus a place of free speech.

The legislation was introduced by Senate member and junior criminal justice major Graham P. Shaw.

"I read a lot of articles by Mike Adams, a professor at [the University of North Carolina at Wilmington] and critic of many policies that universities around the country hold," Shaw said. "Through his columns I found an organization called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE had reviewed our school and pointed out several policies that were against free speech."

According to FIRE’s Web site, Appalachian now holds a red rating, which is given to schools that have at least one policy that restricts student speech.

If students wish to protest in areas outside of the four approved ones, permission must be granted from the administration.

This is one reason the current policy needs to be changed, Shaw said.

"Restricting areas where you can protest restricts the efficiency of that protest. To really get your voice out there you sometimes have to get in the face of the shot callers. Protesting from across the street just doesn’t cut it," Shaw said.

SGA President Forrest S. Gilliam is supportive of the new proposal and believes although the current restrictions on free speech are administered fairly, the restrictions should not exist at all.

While SGA believes it is representing the wishes of the student body, the administration will make the final decision in regards to whether the proposal will be put into action.

"The bill was sent to several university officials after it’s passage. President Gilliam will present this legislation to the Board of Trustees at their March meeting," Shaw said.

However, there is still a possibility that the request could be denied, he said.

In an effort to make the legislation more reasonable to administrative members, several safety regulations were built into the proposal.

These restrictions include the prevention of blocking any university entrance, demonstrating in an academic building or residence hall, and using amplified sound.

The desired outcome is to allow protests on all areas of campus without creating a disturbance that is unnecessary, Shaw said.

"I think it will change student life in that it provides access for them to have effective protests if they need to, particularly around the administrative building and the [John E. Thomas] building," Gilliam said.

Gilliam said no official policy changes could take effect until after the presentation to the Board of Trustees in March.

However, Gilliam hopes to garner some support for the proposed legislation from university administrators before his presentation.

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Schools: Appalachian State University