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UC Riverside Student Government Resolves to Reform Free Speech Policy; FIRE to Help

Some good is beginning to come from the fiasco at Modesto Junior College, where administrators stopped student Robert Van Tuinen from distributing copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day because he had not booked the campus’ “free speech area” five days in advance. As reported by University of California, Riverside students Sandy Van and Winnie Jeng in the Highlander, the Associated Students of UC Riverside (ASUCR), the school’s student government, cited the Modesto incident as a motivating force behind the recently introduced “Resolution to Revise Policies Limiting Student Speech and Assembly.” In a “pre-emptive” move, ASUCR wants to be sure that the administrators at UC Riverside don’t try to smother speech as their colleagues at Modesto have done.

FIRE has rated UC Riverside’s existing policy a “yellow light,” which means that the policy could be implemented in a way that would abridge free speech rights. The passage that concerns FIRE requires university approval for gatherings of more than 25 people:

Any activity that is pre-advertised, requires sound amplification or can reasonably be expected to attract a crowd of 25 or more must be scheduled in advance through the Non-Academic Scheduling Office and is limited to the Bell Tower or Speaker’s Mound area.

Much to their credit, UC Riverside’s students want a stronger commitment from the university administration to respect First Amendment rights on campus. FIRE is optimistic that improvement will come.

First, the ASUCR resolution passed unanimously, indicating strong student support. Its language does not waffle: “UCR is intended to be a prominent public venue for the open and free exchange of ideas, where the right of discussion and expression of all views is a basic principle.”

Second, the university’s reaction has been positive. According to the Highlander article, UCR Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jim Sandoval agreed that 25 was “not a magical number” for determining when the university’s legitimate concerns about noise and crowd control would reasonably come into play. He added, “I applaud the resolution. I think it’s a very responsible resolution and it’s entirely consistent with the values that we have here at UC Riverside and it’s something that we absolutely embrace and can work with ASUCR on.”

FIRE is honored that the students have contacted us to help them implement this resolution. We look forward to working with them and the university administration to make UC Riverside’s commitment to free expression crystal clear.

Image: UC Riverside Student Government Association - Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER

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