FIRE in ‘San Diego Union-Tribune’ on First Amendment Challenges at SWC

November 12, 2009

FIRE’s letter to Southwestern College (SWC) President Raj Chopra has drawn the attention of at least one member of the California college’s Governing Board, as Leonel Sanchez reports today in The San Diego Union-Tribune. The article summaries the case this way:

What’s Happening: Southwestern College created a national uproar over free speech when it placed four teachers on paid leave [and banned them from campus] while it investigated their roles in an Oct. 22 march to the president’s office. Union officials said three of the four have been reprimanded.

What’s next: Two free-speech advocacy groups [FIRE and the ACLU of San Diego] have urged the college to change its policies. A college board member plans to request that the college review its freedom-of-speech policy. The Governing Board meets Wednesday. A free-speech rally is planned for tomorrow.

The article also quotes our letter of November 3, stating that SWC’s actions and its very small "free speech zone"a patio, in factteach students "that speech that is unpopular with the authorities is to be feared, restrained and monitored." We asked for a response by November 17.

Meanwhile, perhaps SWC officials have been paying attention to FIRE’s "free speech zone" case at Tarrant County College, in which two students have successfully won a temporary restraining order protecting their right to assemble, protest, and distribute literature in the public areas of campus. The TCC students are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas in cooperation with FIRE.

In fact, Sanchez reports:

Trustee Nick Aguilar said he plans to ask for a review of the college’s free-speech policy.

"I hope we’ll be able to resolve the issues that are raised in that letter (by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) without having to involve the college in expensive protracted litigation," Aguilar said, stressing that he was speaking for himself, not for the board.

This statement is encouraging. We await a response to our letter.

Schools:  Southwestern College

Cases:  Southwestern College: Professors Banned from Campus after Students Stray Beyond ‘Free Speech Patio’