Victory for Free Speech Nets Victory for Scooter Users at UGA

By October 13, 2010

Here’s a fun development after FIRE’s victory on behalf of University of Georgia (UGA) student Jacob Lovell, who faced charges of "disorderly conduct" and "disruption" for e-mailing UGA Parking Services a complaint about campus scooter parking on campus. As the Athens Banner-Herald reports, Lovell was far from alone in registering his dissatisfaction with scooter parking, and UGA has finally listened.

The Banner-Herald reports:

Scooters will get more parking spaces, many of them conveniently placed near UGA buildings where students congregate, such as the Miller Learning Center and Snelling Hall, a UGA dining hall.

Parking officials hope scooter riders like the new plan better than the current "corral" system and better than a proposal parking officials floated this spring.

Scooter riders didn’t like the old system, saying the corrals were inconvenient to the places they were going, such as classroom buildings.

[...]

In the new plan, scooter parking will be right next to streets or within surface parking lots on the UGA campus, so scooter drivers shouldn’t be tempted to run their machines on sidewalks, Ross said.

And instead of large lots on the fringe of campus, scooter parking will be in small lots throughout the campus.

How did UGA learn about the deficiencies in the old regime? By listening to complaints from the UGA community, of course. UGA’s student newspaper The Red and Black reports that a task force has been looking into this issue since fall 2009.

Things seem to have moved rather quickly, though, since Lovell’s case brought national attention to UGA’s violations of free speech and unwittingly put the issue of campus parking in the limelight. Here’s what Lovell wrote to UGA Parking Services that landed him in such hot water:

Why isn’t there any scooter parking near Aderhold, according to your parking map?  There’s like a billion places to park on north campus and over by the Georgia center, but nothing anywhere close to Aderhold. What the hell?  Did you guys just throw darts at a map to decide where to put scooter corrals?  Can I expect you guys to get off your asses and put in a corral near there some point before I f[***]ing graduate and/or the sun runs out of hydrogen?

Not all of the complaints about scooter parking, I imagine, were so colorful. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, though:

[T]here is no need for a First Amendment if we intend only to protect popular speech-it is precisely unpopular or "offensive" speech that needs protection. The Supreme Court made this clear with its landmark opinion in Cohen v. California when it declared that "one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric." In that case, the Court overturned the conviction of a man who protested the Vietnam war by wearing a jacket bearing the words "F*** the Draft" in a courthouse. Would this man have turned as many heads if his jacket politely stated his preference for not having a draft? Of course not.

This is exactly why people use profanity: to drive home the passion and emotion behind their messages.

This episode illustrates the obvious point that if people don’t complain (and feel safe about complaining) about society’s ills, we shouldn’t expect them to be fixed. And while it might seem good to be respectful and polite in bringing up our concerns, sometimes it’s the one who says he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take this anymore who spurs the real action. The point holds whether the issue is independence, civil rights, or scooter parking at the University of Georgia.

Schools: University of Georgia Cases: University of Georgia: Student Faces Charges for Complaint about Parking Services