CSU revises some policies on free speech

July 20, 2007

By Taylour Nelson at The Coloradoan

Colorado State University revised some of its free speech policies after students cried foul and solicited the help of a national nonprofit that supports First Amendment rights on college campuses.

Changes to CSU’s advertising and “hate incidents” policies for residence halls could make the policies more lenient. CSU also clarified its policy about peaceful assembly on campus to allow it anywhere on campus as long as organizers contact the university’s event planning services before the assembly.

“A lot of universities tend to keep their policies when we bring First Amendment rights to their attention, but (CSU) was very responsive and made these changes,” said Samantha Harris, director of legal and public advocacy at the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE. “The university really did the right thing here.”

CSU changed the policies because they needed clarification, CSU spokeswoman Dell Rae Moellenberg said.

The Campus Libertarians, a group of students who support local and state Libertarian parties, began asking for a change in the wording of the three policies when they were campaigning for Amendment 44 in the fall. Amendment 44 was the unsuccessful marijuana legalization initiative in November’s election.

CSU denied the Libertarian Party’s request to hang posters in the residence halls supporting the amendment and showing a marijuana leaf.

At that time, the residence hall handbook’s advertising policy prohibited the use of “offensive language” and “references to alcoholic beverages or other drugs.”

Looking into other restrictions in residence halls, Seth Anthony, who was chairman of the Campus Libertarians at the time, and leaders of other student organizations realized the residence hall handbook’s hate incidence policy, meant to protect students from feeling threatened in the residence halls, prohibited “expressions of hostility.”

“The expression of hostility was vaguely worded,” Anthony said. “I could say I don’t like Christians or I hate atheists and those could be expressions of hostility, but at the same time they are expressions of real personal feelings that you can have in campus dorms where you’re supposed to be able to have open debate, open discussions and the exchange of provocative ideas. That’s what being in college is all about.”

Anthony also noticed most students were under the impression that peaceful assemblies, demonstrations or rallies were only allowed on the plaza area of campus, an area between the student center and library.

With further investigation of the campus peaceful assembly policy, Anthony noticed the wording was somewhat confusing and needed to be clarified. When he contacted officials at FIRE about the three policies, he found that the hate incidence policy at CSU was something the national nonprofit had already identified.

Harris said CSU was more willing to change the policies than other colleges and universities FIRE has worked with.

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Schools: Colorado State University Cases: Colorado State University: Students Fight for Rights to Free Speech and Assembly