LCCC trustee-elect wants free-speech policy on campus

December 6, 2010

CHEYENNE — The Laramie County Community College Board of Trustees may adopt a policy that encourages the free expression of beliefs on campus.

New trustee Kevin Kilty proposed the idea of adopting the policy at a work session of the board Wednesday night.

Kilty noted that there have been several recent incidents in which it appeared free speech by students and faculty was restricted by the school’s administration.

"If you can’t express things freely on a college campus, where can you?" Kilty asked.

LCCC multimedia instructor J.L. O’Brien said in a telephone interview Thursday that there is no policy on campus that provides free-speech protection.

"Anything that enhances free speech for students, faculty and staff is a fantastic idea," O’Brien said.

There has been a feeling on campus that students and faculty do not have the ability to freely speak out on issues, O’Brien said.

O’Brien, who is one of the advisers to the student newspaper, Wingspan, said he still tells his reporters to pursue controversial topics.

Kilty noted that a national education watch group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, was investigating the college for free-speech violations in the fall.

Kilty noted that an administrator allegedly removed a poster of John Belushi from the movie "Animal House" because the image did not reflect the college’s values.

Such actions are petty and a suppression of free speech, Kilty said.

Trustee John Kaiser said he does not think profanity should be allowed to be displayed at the school. Kaiser said he supports free speech as long as it does not infringe on other people’s rights.

Profanity could offend other students, Kaiser said.

There was another incident in which the school’s administration took down a poster that students displayed in support of Keith Robinder, the former director of student life, Kilty noted.

Kilty said the administration found some of the statements on the poster incendiary and hurtful, but he said that does not mean those statements are not protected speech.

If there was a free-speech policy in place, administrators likely would be deterred from restraining such expression, Kilty said.

Kilty said he would like the LCCC Board of Trustees to adopt a policy from the University of Minnesota that provides free-speech protection for students and employees.

The policy states, in part, "Academic freedom is the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research and creative expression, and to speak or write without institutional discipline or restraint on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties and the functioning of the university."

Kilty said he will take the policy to the LCCC Board of Trustees meeting in December for possible adoption.

Kilty said there was a section of LCCC policy that provided for free speech, but that it was removed in 2004. Kilty said the portion of the policy that was removed stated, in part, "The president shall not prohibit nor discipline any faculty or staff member for non-disruptive internal express or dissent."

Kilty said there should be protection for faculty and students to express their opinions without fear of retribution.

While Darrel Hammon was president of the college, some employees were reportedly scared to speak their minds on issues in fear of being fired. Hammon resigned Monday as president of the college.

LCCC journalism instructor Roz Schliske said "it’s a new day" on campus, and she thinks there will be more transparency.

As for the proposed free-speech policy, Schliske said, "I think it’s wonderful. The First Amendment is so important to our department."

For the past few years, free speech on campus has been "chilled," Schliske said.

Some employees were reluctant to speak to the student newspaper in fear of retribution, she said.

Without free-speech protection, faculty may be reluctant to teach controversial subjects such as evolution or display certain forms of art, Kilty noted.

When free speech is supported, employees may be more willing to exchange ideas with the trustees, Kilty said.