Yosemite Community College District board to address free speech policy on campuses

December 9, 2013

By Nan Austin at The Modesto Bee

MODESTO – Columbia College is slated to get a permanent president and an update to its policy on free speech Wednesday at the Yosemite Community College District board meeting.

The district’s policy drew fire after student Robert Van Tuinen was prohibited from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17 – Constitution Day – at Modesto Junior College. Films of the incident, posted on YouTube by an advocacy organization, drew nationwide interest and the school received thousands of angry calls and emails.

In October, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Van Tuinen with help from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, demanding the district end what it called overbroad restrictions on free speech.

The revised YCCD policy addresses the “time, place and manner” procedures an administrator cites in the video, telling Van Tuinen he needed prior permission before distributing materials on campus, which could have taken several weeks to arrange.

The proposed procedures would change district denial of permission to speak or distribute materials in open areas from “at its discretion” to “in a manner consistent with applicable law.” In general, the policy limits hate speech, use of microphones, soliciting money except for campus groups, blocking passers-by or being disruptive. It says people distributing materials should pick up the discards lying around campus.

The board also is slated to announce its pick for Columbia College president. Leslie Buckalew has served as interim president since the abrupt firing of Dennis Gervin on Feb. 28. His dismissal was briefly set aside at an April meeting because he had not been given 24-hour notice of his termination, board President Abe Rojas said at the time. Gervin was promoted to president in July 2011 after serving as Columbia’s vice president of student learning.

Up for the job were Buckalew, Michael White and Angela Fairchilds. Each participated in a public forum at the college Dec. 2.

Trustees also will hear an update on construction projects and receive the 2012-13 audit report. The board will be asked to approve a list of MJC courses being added, updated or reinstated, many in child development or computer applications. An equine science program and state-approved certificate in communication studies are being proposed.

Schools: Modesto Junior College Cases: Modesto Junior College: Students Barred from Distributing Constitutions on Constitution Day