University of Michigan Scraps Distribution Policy and Upholds the First Amendment

By March 5, 2008

A month ago, FIRE reported on a proposed policy that would have restricted the distribution of student publications in certain buildings at the University of Michigan. The policy has now been rejected. The College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) had spent the last two years drafting the policy, which would have limited the number of student groups allowed to distribute fliers and publications in LSA buildings. According to an article in The Michigan Daily,

The policy would have mandated that all publications and organizations fall under the oversight of the Board for Student Publicationswhich manages the Gargoyle humor magazine, the Michiganensian yearbook and The Michigan Dailyor be registered with the Michigan Student Assembly in order to distribute or post student-created print material in an LSA building.

LSA had argued that regulating publication distribution would limit the amount of loose papers on the floor, thus reducing the chance of students slipping on the papers.

The senior editors of the Daily wrote a letter to LSA voicing concerns that the proposed policy would stifle the free speech rights of student publications at Michigan. The editors wrote:

The Daily will not support any policy that unnecessarily limits the rights of student publications to distribute in LSA buildings, even if that policy makes special allowances for the Daily and other well-established newspapers.

As we previously reported on The Torch, FIRE’s Associate Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley offered FIRE’s opinion on the proposed time, place, and manner restrictions proposed by the LSA to the Daily:

What comes up any time a university uses "time, place and manner" to justify a speech code or "free speech zone," Creeley said, is the question of how much regulation is necessary to preserve order without infringing on free speech and expression rights.

"Time, place and manner restrictions have to be constructed in ways that are least restrictive in speech activities as possible," he said. "In this case, LSA’s policy isn’t narrowly targeted and isn’t specific enough to address the claims they’re purported to address."

The Michigan Daily and The Michigan Review had both covered the policy extensively and brought public pressure on LSA to respect the free speech rights of student publications. Thankfully, these efforts have resulted in a decision by the university not to restrict campus speech rights.