Teachable Moments: Chula Vista campus charged with violating student rights

May 18, 2010

The following press release came in Friday from the American Civil Liberties Union via Californians Aware [1]. CalAware is a resource center supporting open government, First Amendment rights, free speech, an active press, and compliance with the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act.

ACLU, FIRE: Public College Still Abridging Speech

Southwestern College limits free expression on its San Diego campus to a single "free speech patio" and has proposed a new policy that unconstitutionally restricts expression, according to letters released yesterday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of San Diego & Imperial Counties. The deadline for input on the new policy was May 15.

The new proposals embrace the idea that the campus is largely a public forum for speech. However, as detailed in the letters sent by ACLU and FIRE, the proposals still present serious constitutional problems:

  • They would authorize unconstitutional censorship of certain speech and illegally compel speakers to disclaim authority to speak for the college whenever they mention the college’s name.
  • They would improperly require advance registration for demonstrations and events that have no impact on campus traffic or security.
  • Even if registration is appropriate in some cases, they would require registration too far in advance and fail to allow for spontaneous demonstrations in response to breaking events.
  • Finally, they would wrongly require persons distributing literature to be responsible for cleaning up litter caused by others.

"These proposals are a step forward, but if adopted as written, they would still violate the fundamental right to freedom of speech," said David Blair-Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. "The college needs to repeal its existing policy now and promptly adopt valid policies to avoid litigation."

Postage-stamp-size patio

Southwestern College [2] is located in Chula Vista and was established in 1961. It is one of 112 public community colleges in California and serves about 18,000 students.

A May 13 editorial [3] in Southwestern College’s student newspaper, The Southwestern Sun, said student protesters had been "relegated to a postage-stamp-size patio."

Schools: Southwestern College Cases: Southwestern College: Professors Banned from Campus after Students Stray Beyond ‘Free Speech Patio’