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

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Sam Houston State University

On September 22, 2011, the student groups SHSU Lovers of Liberty, Bearkat Democrats, Young Democratic Socialists, and College Republicans sponsored the display of a “free speech wall,” on which students were invited to write any message they wanted. When SHSU Professor Joe E. Kirk saw that someone had written “FUCK OBAMA” on the wall, he demanded that the student organizers cover up the message. When they refused, Kirk returned with a box cutter and cut out the word “FUCK.” On the advice of an SHSU administrator, the student groups contacted SHSU’s University Police Department to report Kirk’s vandalism. After SHSU police Deputy Chief James Fitch interviewed the students and Kirk, however, he ordered the students to either censor the profanity on the wall or take down the wall altogether. The students decided to take down the wall. Fitch later stated that because Kirk was “offended by the use of the profanity,” its use “qualified it as disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.” FIRE has written to SHSU’s president to protect students’ right to free speech.