Two Years Later, New and Improved Speech Policy at UCSD Nears Implementation

By on October 16, 2009

After more than two years of intense negotiation and debate, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is on the verge of implementing a long-awaited revision of its speech policies. UCSD student newspaper The Guardian reported earlier this month that the proposed revisions are now open for public comment.

Guardian reporter Xue Mao explains the most important changes:

Due to expansion of the campus, the policy features an updated list of areas in which the use of electronically amplified sound is permitted, within the hours of 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. reduced from a former slot of 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and additionally including all areas within 150 feet of university buildings, but lifting all restrictions on the Student Center Hump, Price Center Plaza and Library. Chalking is also newly authorized, though restricted to surfaces exposed to weather elements.

[...]

UCSD’s current policy states that free speech can only be practiced in areas "at least 25 feet from the entrances/exits of campus buildings and parking lots." In contrast, the new draft allows un-electronically amplified expression anywhere on campus given there is no "unreasonable" interference with university business, other persons or the environment.

While the true test will come when the policy takes effect, the vast improvement on the old policy is already evident.

FIRE has been involved in this debate from the beginning, dating back to June 2007, when we sent a letter to UCSD protesting the extremely restrictive provisions contained in the first draft of the policy. In addition to other failings, that earlier draft would have required students to make a reservation a day in advance for any speech gathering that might draw more than 10 people. As Sam pointed out in our letter, this was an untenable restriction. She wrote:

Because of the size of UCSD’s student population, one could reasonably conclude that any event on campus could possibly draw more than 10 attendees. UCSD proposes to effectively require, then, that all "exercise[s] of free speech" occurring on campus be explicitly reserved at least one business day prior.

Happily, student leaders like Benjamin Balthaser and Juan Vasquez brought enough pressure on the administration to convince UCSD to extend the period for public comment on that first draft. FIRE wrote another letter in November 2007 to point out the policy’s infirmities. In February 2008, we learned that the administration had shelved the first draft altogether, effectively admitting the policy as proposed could not stand.

In the months following, FIRE worked closely with Balthaser and other student leaders to formulate a proposal that satisfied UCSD’s legal and moral obligations under the First Amendment. This past June, we were proud to announce that a new policy had been finalized; now, as public comment opens, we are one step closer to a commendable result: a new speech policy at UCSD, the product of hard work by students. We will keep you posted as to when the new policy is finally implemented.

Schools: University of California, San Diego