FIRE’s Sevcenko: Censorship on Michigan’s College Campuses Must Stop

November 6, 2014

FIRE fights not just college administrators’ efforts to censor speech on campus but also students’ complacency with, or even support for, such censorship. FIRE Associate Director of Litigation Catherine Sevcenko wrote for The Huffington Post Tuesday to remind students what happens when administrators are allowed discretion in allowing or disallowing speech on campus.

Catherine first brings readers’ attention to Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC), where community members were instructed to route all communications with the media through the communications office. GRCC Student Alliance President Arielle Brown told the student newspaper The Collegiate that it was perfectly okay for GRCC to impose this prior restraint on expression in order to control the college’s image. “We need to follow the rules, because then we can come to a compromise. As a student I need to trust that the rules are in place for a reason,” she said.

In her article, Catherine explains why FIRE disagrees:

No, no you don’t. GRCC is a public community college — i.e., a government entity — and when the government tries to censor speech, the First Amendment is violated and trust with the governed is broken. That is precisely when the rules need to be scrutinized with great skepticism.

Catherine goes on to review the facts of the latest case filed as part of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, which illustrates how administrators abuse discretion when they have it. At Western Michigan University, a registered student organization was forced to move its event featuring rapper and social activist Boots Riley off campus after being burdened with high security fees based on the university’s baseless claim that the event might cause a public disturbance.

When colleges and universities make up their own rules as they go along, it’s easy for them to censor anyone whose speech they don’t like. Students, that means your speech could be next.

Read the rest of Catherine’s article in The Huffington Post.

Schools:  Western Michigan University

Cases:  Western Michigan University – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit