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Student Government at UC Santa Barbara Votes to Support Free Speech on Campus

On March 2, 2016, the Associated Students Senate of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) voted in favor of a resolution asking administrators to protect free speech at the university, as reported by The College Fix. The vote and resolution are the student government’s response to concerns over UCSB’s Bias Response Team and national examples of censored speech, as well as UCSB’s “yellow light” rating from FIRE.

The resolution opens by acknowledging the vital role free speech plays on college campuses:

Whereas: The core mission of the public university is to be a place where all ideas, no matter how sacred, are open to be questioned and challenged; and,
Whereas: Free speech, free thought, and free expression are central to this core mission.                   

Importantly, the resolution also states, “the Senate and Associated Students can support the right to free expression even when the Senate strongly disagree[s] with what is being said.” This is a core principle of free speech and sets the bar high for other University of California student governments to follow, especially given the number of recent incidents of censorship at other UC schools. Last fall, for example, the student government at the University of California, San Diego voted to defund all student papers in an effort to target The Koala, a satirical student newspaper, after it published an article mocking “safe spaces.” In 2013, UC Berkeley’s student government voted to prohibit the phrase “illegal immigrant” on campus. And, just last month, UC student body presidents released a letter urging the UC Regents not to let free speech “distract” from creating inclusive campuses.

The student government also calls upon UCSB’s administration to “amend all speech codes so that they no longer contain any language that infringes upon or threatens to infringe upon students’ right to free expression.” The inclusion of this demand stems from a proposal given to the student government by UCSB student Jason Garshfield, who has worked with the FIRE Student Network to change UCSB’s culture of censorship.

According to UCSB’s student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, “Garshfield proposed drafting a resolution in support of free speech to respond to F.I.R.E.’s rating and improve student freedoms.” Readers may recall that UCSB earned FIRE’s yellow light rating for maintaining policies that could too easily be used to restrict protected speech, including an expression-chilling letter sent to freshmen instructing them how to behave.

The student government, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of free expression on campus:

UCSB [encourages] students to make the most of their time at this prestigious university by embodying the “spirit of free expression,” by being willing to face viewpoints that differ from their own without attacking anyone’s character or ulterior motives, challenge their own deeply held beliefs, and question everything that is presented to them, anywhere on campus, without being restricted to ‘“free speech” zones.

UCSB’s administration should heed the student government’s calls for reform and eliminate the university’s speech codes. Likewise, other student governments, including that of UC San Diego, would do well to follow UCSB’s lead in standing up for students’ right to free speech.

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