If ever a major public university needed campus activism to prod along improvement of its policies regulating student speech, Florida State University does. Despite being legally bound by the First Amendment as a public institution of higher education, FSU has a whopping 11 speech codes, including two “red light” policies and nine “yellow light” policies.
One of these yellow light speech codes is a free speech zone policy (PDF) limiting student speech and expressive activity to three areas on campus. On a large public campus with a sizeable student body, this is simply insufficient. These types of policies are particularly harmful because they restrict and discourage spontaneous expressive activity such as rallies, demonstrations, and even leafleting.
Thankfully, some students at FSU have taken it upon themselves to advocate for greater free speech protections and to attempt to gain the ear of the university administration. Among these students are David Brunal, a member of the FSU College Libertarians, and Michael Sampson, a member of the civil rights student group Dream Defenders, who shared their thoughts with the campus newspaper FSView & Florida Flambeau:
“The number of open platform areas is shrinking and I think the University recognizes the need to fix that and designate new areas,” Brunal says. “But it’s a big campus and there should be a lot more space for freedom of speech. Ideally the whole campus would be opened up. It’s a public university and the property should be able to be used by anyone.”
“I understand safety regulations and I understand that the school doesn’t want class disrupted,” Sampson says. “But the policy now is too strict. We have a legal right to speak and I think designating areas to speak is taking away rights. There’s also the issue of students feeling intimidated by the rules. They want to be heard but they don’t know what is and what’s not allowed.”
We hope the administration is listening and will make some much-needed policy changes. FSU’s free speech zone policy would indeed be a good place to start, and perhaps from there the university can move on to fixing its other speech codes! And, as always, we are here to help.