Potential Censorship of Political Speech at University of West Georgia

September 16, 2008

Last week, The West Georgian, the official student paper of the University of West Georgia, ran an article regarding a dispute over "table tents" (advertisements folded into a triangle shape and placed on tables) that the College Republicans set out in the University Community Center and the Z-6 Dining Hall. Printed on the table tents were provocative statements about presidential candidate Barack Obama and advertisements for a party to watch the Republican Convention. A number of students complained, citing the inflammatory nature of the information presented about Senator Obama, and the president of the Young Democrats said that the table tents made it look like the university’s Auxiliary Services endorsed the message.

In response to the growing controversy, Chris Geiger, director of the school’s Center for Student Involvement, noted that according to current university policy, any student group has access to that particular forumthe Young Democrats no less than the College Republicans. But The West Georgian article reported that university administrators are nevertheless contemplating a policy change banning political student groups’ messages from the eating areas:

University officials are considering taking steps to enact a policy that will govern the placing of politically-themed table tents on tables in the future. The Student Handbook also states that policies are subject to change at any time, and the University may well take steps to prevent both the College Republicans and Young Democrats from posting campaign material in food service areas.

The answer to speech one finds disagreeable or offensive is not to ban it, but to respond with more speech. It is sophistry to claim that allowing the expression of a certain viewpoint implies an endorsement of that expression. In reality, it simply means that the university is allowing the marketplace of ideas to work, and for the struggle between competing viewpoints to play out. This is exactly what is happening at West Georgia. The Young Democrats have reported that they will be responding to the College Republicans’ table tents with their own.

Mark Reeves, director of Auxiliary Services and the administrator in charge of the eating areas on campus, seems to have the right idea. He said that while he does not endorse a candidate in his official capacity, "What I do endorse is the freedom of speech. All I can do is tell you that you have an equal right to free speech." Well said, Mr. Reeves. That is what administrators are supposed to say.

Schools:  University of West Georgia