Greg Lukianoff on MSNBC’s Buchanan and Press
Transcript, originally aired June 2, 2003
PRESS: Welcome back to BUCHANAN & PRESS. A big debate on college campuses. Should students be allowed to protest wherever they want or protest limited to certain so-called free speech zones? Big lawsuits about that at some campuses, including University of Texas down at El Paso. Joining us to talk about it is Greg Lukianoff, who’s director of Legal and Public Advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education or FIRE. Mr. Lukianoff, thanks for joining us-Pat.
GREG LUKIANOFF, DIR. OF LEGAL & PUBLIC POLICY, FIRE: Thanks for having me.
BUCHANAN: Mr. Lukianoff, what exactly is your problem with the idea of a university setting aside places for protest and speeches and demonstrations and then setting aside a place for the vast majority of students who may not want to hear all this demonstrations and what they consider nonsense?
LUKIANOFF: Well, having reasonable time, place, and manner restriction is something that nobody disagrees with and preventing the disruption of a university is also something no one disagrees with. But there is something very strange about turning 99 percent of a public college or university into a censorship zone. And you have to understand…
BUCHANAN: Hold on. What do you mean by censorship? It seems to me they’re saying if you want to do what you want to do, which is not what the other students are there to learn and to study, but if you want to protest, they say, look, we’ve got Sproul Plaza out here in Berkeley where you can go and protest 24 hours a day, but stay away from these buildings where students are studying. What is wrong with that?
LUKIANOFF: Well those aren’t the policies, though. It’s important to understand that these policies apply to people handing out newspapers, handing out leaflets, and some of them, like Western Illinois University, for example, a school of, I think, 22,000 students; They used to only have one small free speech zone that you could only use during business hours from Monday through Friday, and for that you had to get a five-day advanced permit…
BUCHANAN: What is wrong with that?
LUKIANOFF: For one thing it doesn’t allow you to bring the speech to the target of your speech.
BUCHANAN: But, wait a minute. You-what you are saying, my friend, you’re not-I agree with you. Protect the right to free speech.
BUCHANAN: That doesn’t mean that you have a right and go grab a captive audience, which doesn’t want to hear that speech.
LUKIANOFF: Well, I understand that, and I’m not arguing for that, but when you are saying that 99 percent of a college campus can’t be used for any free speech activity whatsoever, I think that that’s a very strange idea to have about universities-universities are ultimately supposed to be the free speech zone of the entire society.
BUCHANAN: But, Greg, let me say, look, the-universities are a privilege, not a right. You pay there. They can say you can’t get in here. They can say get out of here. Your grades aren’t any good. We don’t like your behavior. They have a right to set these rules. I mean, it seems to me they’re doing you a favor by setting aside these zones to do something you want to do and you ought to respect their rights and I guess the rights of the overwhelming majority who don’t want to hear these demonstrations, be in them, they don’t want to be panhandled. They don’t want to be solicited. They want you to get out of their face and go demonstrate where you demonstrate.
LUKIANOFF: Well, for one thing, as I said, this also applies to handing out newspapers and leaflets, not the same sort of invasive protest that you are talking about. But you need to understand that when we’re dealing with public colleges, we’re dealing with full citizens of the United States and that it’s unconstitutional to limit people…
BUCHANAN: Why don’t you hand out-go outside the college campus outside the door. You got your pamphlets, you got your newspapers as guys do right at the subways and hand them out, and the guy can say get out of here or I’m going in. You got your place right there. Why do you got to take them in where these folks have their own preserve to study and to learn?
LUKIANOFF: So it seems like what we’d end up with is an entire generation of people that believe that speech should be strictly limited, completely regulated and feared basically…
BUCHANAN: You can’t come into my front lawn…
LUKIANOFF: .that’s not the message you want to give at a university or a college.
BUCHANAN: Look, you can’t come into my front lawn and demonstrate or speak. You can go out to Lafayette Square if you get a permit. That’s what life is like, Greg.
LUKIANOFF: Sure. And you’re talking about reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. OK, I’ll give you an example. A school in Texas with 28,000 students only allows one 20-foot wide area for free speech activities, and that includes handing out newspapers and leaflets. I had one of my friends who went to MIT work that out. If you wanted to have all the students…
BUCHANAN: Twenty feet?
LUKIANOFF: If you want to have all…
BUCHANAN: Twenty square feet is a closet.
LUKIANOFF: Yes. If you wanted to have all the students protesting at one time in this area, since it’s a roofed area, you would have had to crush them down to the density of uranium 238. That is not a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction.
BUCHANAN: I will agree with you on the unreasonableness…
BUCHANAN: … if your facts are accurate, Greg.
PRESS: All right. Hey, Greg, listen, I want to chime in here as a defender of free speech. Glad to be the defender of free speech even on college campuses. Here’s the problem as I see it. It’s not just college campuses.
PRESS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) political convention today, you can’t find the protesters. The president of the United States goes to Philadelphia or somewhere, you can’t see the protesters. They’re a mile away inside of a chain-linked fence, little square or something. So why don’t you propose the opposite? Don’t tell us where we can’t speak-or can speak on campus. Tell us where we can’t.
PRESS: Have a 20-foot square area, if that’s the one place where you can’t in front of a clinic or something…
LUKIANOFF: Yes that’s-and that’s perfectly reasonable. This has been true all throughout American history, all throughout the history of
governments: You give someone some little loophole that allows them to censor opinions they don’t like, and they’re going to jump on it and time, place, and manner restrictions have become that loophole. They…
LUKIANOFF: … and it is also used to silence unpopular views, but it’s really used to keep peace and quiet on universities when ultimately the function of a university is to promote candor and debate.
BUCHANAN: … we need a little peace and quiet occasionally…
PRESS: We need candor and debate.
BUCHANAN: Thanks for coming on and…
PRESS: Thanks, Greg.
BUCHANAN: … and good luck…
LUKIANOFF: Thank you for having me.