Honor code charges against UNCG students dropped

January 18, 2006

GREENSBORO — UNCG has dropped honor code charges against two students who protested in areas of campus other than those defined as free speech zones, according to the accused students and an education advocacy group.

Student Code of Conduct violations were dropped against 23-year-old UNCG seniors Allison Jaynes and Robert Sinnott for refusing to move when told to do so by a university official.

The case began after a November protest organized by the College Libertarians to object to the university’s specified free speech zones. During the three-hour protest, about 50 students gathered in front of Jackson Library — which isn’t one of the designated free speech zones — and held signs and banners in protest and collected signatures against the policy.

Sinnott said a goal of the protest was for the university to make allegations against them.

“We were intending to provoke the system into action into a critical review of what’s going on,” he said.

Jaynes, the founder and president of the UNCG College Libertarians, said she got involved because most citizens and students don’t know their constitutional rights.

Officials “take advantage of that to keep things calm and quiet,” she said Tuesday. “That strikes a chord in me.”

Jen Day Shaw, UNCG’s dean of students, did not return a call for comment Tuesday on the case.

The university has created a task force to evaluate UNCG’s two free speech zones — on the east lawn by Elliott University Center and the eastern portion of the lawn in front of the Foust Building — and UNCG’s posting policy, said Checka Leinwall, the associate director for student life.

Sinnott said the charges were dropped because the speech zone policy is under review. “I was excited about it primarily because it just shows that the rule is, in fact, impotent,” he said.

If Sinnott and Jaynes had been found responsible for their actions in a hearing scheduled for Friday, they might have faced probation with restrictions. Subsequent violations could have led to “suspension to expulsion,” Sinnott said.

University officials said the history of the free speech zones is not really known. “It predated just about everybody here,” said Lucien “Skip” Capone III, the university attorney.

The policy may be a hold over from the Vietnam War and civil rights era, he said.

Capone said he will give the task force a briefing on where he thinks the law is headed. “Within that, the committee will have to decide ‘Do we want to open this whole place up?’ ‘Are some places activities will disrupt university operations?’ ‘If so, what are the parameters of that?’ ” he said.

Ideally, Jaynes and Sinnott said they would like students to be able to express themselves anywhere on campus.

“I would like to see this specific policy eliminated from regulations,” Jaynes said.

Both Jaynes and Sinnott agreed that student protests shouldn’t impede learning.

“As long as you aren’t infringing on someone’s right to study, there’s no reason why someone can’t say what they want when they’re on taxpayer land,” Sinnott said.

The advocacy group working with Jaynes and Sinnott, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, was pleased to hear the charges were dropped.

“Public universities need robust and open exchange and candor in order to properly function, the idea of quarantining free speech to a tiny parts of campus is entirely incompatible with universities societal role,” said Greg Lukianoff, interim president of the organization.

Free speech is something the university is committed to, said Capone and Leinwall.

“I think we want to come up with a policy that works for everybody to the best we can,” Capone said. “Despite the way we’ve been painted, we really do think free speech is important. It’s the bedrock of what the university is about.”

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Schools: University of North Carolina – Greensboro Cases: University of North Carolina at Greensboro: Punishment of Free Speech Protestors