Students turn in petitions, demand Whitmore response

October 20, 2003

By Sally Gunter at University Daily

Despite cancellation of a formal meeting with Texas Tech President Jon Whitmore, seven members of Students for Free Speech met Friday afternoon outside his office to turn in hundreds of signed petitions.

The group had a meeting scheduled with Whitmore last week, but it was cancelled Tuesday following Monday’s media coverage of the campaign for additional petitions, said Brian Roa, a graduate student from Lubbock studying philosophy.

The university told Roa the meeting was cancelled because he had not followed the correct bureaucratic steps, Roa said.

Whitmore was unavailable for comment.

Beth Robinson, a senior human development and family studies major from Birmingham, read a prepared statement in response to the unwillingness of the university to cooperate with the rights of students.

According to the statement, Whitmore willingly chose not to show up to the meeting.

To ensure Whitmore receives and examines each petition, a special letter included in the box of petitions requests a public response from Whitmore.

“We demand that President Whitmore personally respond to this letter in the campus newspaper via an editorial within a week,” Robinson said. “So that concerned students know you read their letters and understand their grievance.”

One of the main arguments of the group is that Tech has a responsibility as a state institution that receives federal tax money to enforce the Constitution and not deny students their First Amendment rights.

Chief of Staff for the president’s office Ron Phillips refused to hear the arguments of the group Friday. He did accept the box of petitions on behalf of Whitmore.

Roa gave Phillips an e-mail address to confirm that Whitmore received the formal requests.

On Monday, the Students for Free Speech passed the petitions out to students in the Stangel/Murdough dining hall. The group collected more than 350 student signed letters.

The petitions call for the university to change its free speech policies, eliminating the forum areas and creating a free speech campus. It said the university is hypocritical by teaching students a high work ethic, yet not upholding the same high standards for the administration.

Roa met with Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Shonrock last week to discuss the context of the petitions.

“He wanted to accept the letters,” Roa said. “But we felt entitled to meet with the president.”

Shonrock was unavailable for comment.

Tech recently expanded its free speech forum areas to six places around campus. Texas A&M has similar designated areas for free speech, while the University of Texas is considered a free speech campus.

A lawsuit filed in June by Jason Roberts, a student at the Texas Tech School of Law, against 13 Tech employees, claimed the university “unlawfully restricts” students’ First Amendment rights.

The ruling on this lawsuit is pending, said Victor Mellinger, Tech’s associate general counsel.

“Both sides have filed motions for summary judgment to decide who wins,” he said. “It is down to the judge to decide.”

The fight for a free speech campus is not over, advocates say.

“We will continue to campaign for free speech on the Tech campus until this administration either brings Tech into part of the federal law or the current administration resigns so that a new leadership can be instilled,” Robinson said. “[That] can accomplish the needs and the rights of the 27,000 students here at Texas Tech.”

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