Policy Changed: VSU reveals new free expression rule; FIRE backs off

By September 17, 2008

VSU President Dr. Patrick Schloss signed a new General Public Forum Venue policy on Sept. 11, changing VSU’s free expression on campus.

In a letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Schloss announced that a new General Public Forum Venue policy replaced the old Free Expression Area policy. The new policy dramatically increases the amount of time allowed for use of the school’s free speech expression area on campus for public debate.

In response, FIRE has taken VSU off of their "Red Alert" list of schools who disregard free speech and expression.

"President Schloss has distinguished himself from his predecessor by setting an admirable new course for student rights at VSU, and FIRE is pleased to be able to remove VSU from our Red Alert list of the worst schools for fundamental rights on campus," Greg Lukianoff, FIRE president, said in a press release via their website.

Dr. Schloss hinted at changes in the policy during a question and answer interview with The Spectator last week.

In the previous policy, it states that the "stage on the Palms Quadrangle" is the designated site for the "Free Expression Area" at VSU. The old policy states that only "one person or group" can use the area at a time.

The old policy also states that the area can only be used between the hours of "noon to 1 p.m." and/or "5 p.m. to 6 p.m."

The new policy goes into further detail than the previous, giving examples of free speech opportunities on campus such as "lectures, entertainment, classroom discussions" and various other student programs and ativities.

The significant change in the policy is the naming of the "Public Forum Venue" which is located in Palms Quad and formerly called the "Free Expression Area."

Also revamped were the times of use, giving the public 22 more hours of free expression than the university had before.

"I think the title of the free expression area in the policy that had been in existence, some people were taking it literally as the only place," Dr. Kurt Keppler, vice president for student affairs, said. "I think for whatever reason, there has been an assumption that VSU is trying to restrict free expression. That’s ridiculous."

The new policy still requires a 48-hour reservation notice so that no scheduling conflicts will arise. Reservations can be made in the Dean of Students Office, in cooperation with the Events Services Office.

VSU’s free speech limitations were brought to attention after former VSU student Hayden Barnes was expelled in May 2007 by former VSU President Dr. Ronald Zaccari after posting a photo collage on Facebook, questioning the school’s decision to build two new parking decks.

In August, VSU was listed along with Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Brandeis University and Tufts University as a "Red Alert" school in advertisements by the FIRE.

The advertisements ran in magazines such as U.S. News and World Report along with the Valdosta Daily Times and The Spectator.

"This [General Public Forum Venue] gives Joe average citizen the right to go to that space and talk about whatever they want to talk about," Keppler said. "The one thing that the public venue doesn’t guarantee you is an audience."

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Schools: Valdosta State University