Opinion: Should Dixie State University Be Applauded For Allowing Free Speech?

May 10, 2015

By Dallas Hyland at The South Utah Independent 

Last week, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education representing three Dixie State University students, DSU President Richard “Biff” Williams announced in both a campus wide email and to various press members that the current free speech codes were being placed under a moratorium.

Seeing that a moratorium is the suspension of an activity, the fact that Williams would make such an announcement infers that it has been realized that the speech codes no longer serve the best interests of the university. But it begs the question, when did they ever?

In an article last week in The Spectrum, FIRE president and CEO Greg Lukianoff said, “Universities like Dixie State are increasingly recognizing that speech codes are losers in both the court of law and the court of public opinion, and they are declining to defend them when challenged.”

Perhaps because they are unconstitutional?

Williams stated in interviews this week that he just wished the students had come to him first. Given his personal track record in his short tenure thus far, as well as the track record of the university for abdicating not only its own policies but state and federal laws with regards to student, faculty, staff, and citizens rights, old Biff  has some nerve making that statement.

In the same article in The Spectrum, William Jerkins, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, stated: “If there was a way besides legal action to have secured the freedom of speech for myself and my fellow students, we would have taken it. We were certain at the time, and still are, that this was our only option to keep our constitutional rights from being trampled.”

And this is the crux of it. The simple fact is that in the current landscape at DSU, both in this case as well as at least three others and likely more down the pike, the only way to bring this school into compliance with the law as well as the highest standards of academia is to face them directly with the reality of federal litigation. Because they are not going to do it of their own volition, no matter what Biff is saying right now.

The tone of the announcement this week had an air of integrity around it as the embattled president wrote patriotically about how a university should model these high standards. He overlooks, of course, the fact that DSU does not do such a thing on a multitude of levels, and has not for decades.

Likened to a shoplifter who thinks the crime is assuaged by putting the merchandise back after they have been caught, the school is attempting to look good in a situation that really is rather rapacious and abhorrent.

DSU has been put on notice in the form of federal actions that will result, if successful, in the aligning of the university with the laws of our land, as well as a very real possibility of having to incur the costs of monetary damages, not to mention the legal fees your tax dollars are paying to defend these lawsuits. It is not too far off to suggest that some people will either resign or be fired over much of this.

And while it appears that DSU is attempting to settle this particular suit by taking initial steps to change their policies, FIRE and other litigators are going to be relentless in seeing that the changes are not merely placations that can later be rescinded.

Catherine Sevcenko, associate director of litigation for FIRE, told The Independent:

“This is an important step forward that [DSU] has announced a moratorium to these unconstitutional policies … That they have said that they are going to do a complete reform of their policies is also an encouraging sign … But we’re going to be watching to make sure that these nice words turn into concrete action.”

DSU gets no accolade for at long last acquiescing to the wrong doing they have willfully and actively engaged in and defended until litigation was the only remedy. They simply get a long overdue, “It’s about damn time.”

See you out there.

Schools: Dixie State University Cases: Dixie State University – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project