Dear President Massey, Indian River Community College (IRCC):
You cannot imagine how excited I was to read your recent press release stating that “(IRCC) is strongly committed to fulfilling its responsibility to strike an appropriate balance between maintaining an effective, orderly learning environment and protecting the rights of (IRCC) students.” I was also thrilled to read that IRCC decided to consult a Constitutional attorney to review your policies and procedures as they relate to student activities and events on your campus.
Your attorney’s determination that your policies concerning student activities “had not been interpreted and applied consistently throughout the College” was certainly correct. Thus, your decision to make “several changes” including “new step-by-step procedures for student activities requests” (a.k.a., due process) was also wise.
I was pleased to hear that, in the future, student clubs and organizations will be guaranteed that requests “to conduct public exhibits, displays, presentations, activities, and events on campus will be consistently evaluated,” and that the process of evaluation will take into account the “time, place and manner” guidelines set forth in prior Supreme Court decisions.
As an academic who is accustomed to dealing with bureaucratic red tape, I was shocked to learn that you have already reviewed the request of a student organization to show the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” which you had previously denied. And, needless to say, I am shocked that the movie has now been approved to be shown on your campus.
I am also thrilled by your determination that “the R-rated movie designation established by the Motion Picture Association of America is not applicable to the college campus and will no longer be used as a criteria (sic) in approving student activities or events.” Since your previous (and unwritten) ban on R-rated movies was merely an excuse to censor “The Passion of the Christ” while showing other R-rated movies like “Welcome to Sarajevo,” I believe you have chosen a wise course of action.
I have every confidence that your statement emphasizing that “IRCC will continue to uphold its duty and responsibility to set appropriate parameters for activities and events that take place on campus, while respecting the rights of students” is sincere. Nonetheless, along with others, I will carefully monitor your school’s activities to make certain you uphold your promise.
Controversies like the one that has now ended on your campus are stressful, to say the least. I hope your administration has learned that falsely accusing your opponents of “lies and distortions” can have devastating effects in the court of public opinion. Your capacity to raise funds and maintain a positive public image demands that you conduct yourself more professionally in the future.
In order to avoid any future controversies, I would suggest ordering several dozen copies of the FIRE Guide to Free Speech on Campus at www.thefire.org or through www.amazon.com. I intend to celebrate this recent victory for free speech by ordering 100 copies and distributing them to administrators, faculty, and students on our campus.
This case reminds me that sunlight can often be the best disinfectant. It should also teach you that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of humiliation.