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Roll Tide: Free Speech at Alabama

There’s some welcome news on the free speech front from the University of Alabama today. Those who follow FIRE know that the University of Alabama is one of the worst schools in the country when it comes to respecting free speech. Administrators and faculty members there often seem completely dismissive of their public university’s moral and constitutional responsibilities. This is, after all, the school that banned the American flag from dorm windows. In that case, students engaged in civil disobedience by placing American flags all over their windows, and the administration backed down.

Well, once again UA students have taken a stand for free speech in the form of a Student Senate resolution that directly contradicts an earlier UA Faculty Senate resolution that called for speech restrictions. All the facts on this can be found in today’s press release. But there’s more to this story than a press release can communicate.

As we noted, UA has tangled with FIRE a lot. UA’s hostility towards free speech has sent a very clear message to students that to challenge the “official” views of the school is to run a serious risk of trouble. This leaves those who would engage in unpopular speech in a very uncomfortable position, even though those are the very people for whom the First Amendment guarantees of free speech are most important. That is why this new resolution is so meaningful: it gives an “official” imprimatur to principles of free speech rather than censorship and sends a message that dissent is acceptable, and even welcome, at UA. Freedom is much more likely to bloom where it is not universally condemned.

The unanimous passage of this resolution is also a signal that UA’s student government is not willing merely to acquiesce to whatever unconstitutional plans faculty members or administrators may cook up next. UA’s Student Senate just delivered a serious blow to the climate of repression at UA, and the university will be better off as a result—no matter what the Faculty Senate or administration might think.

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