The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at the University of Central Florida (UCF) gathered outside the student union wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “EXPLOITATION KING” to protest the perceived mistreatment of a hamburger chain’s workers. University police told the peaceful protesters to move to a “free-assembly zone” or face arrest. The students argued that, as students, they had a right to hold their demonstration outside of the free-assembly zone. Eventually the police relented, but by then the protest had already fizzled. Maribeth Ehasz, UCF’s vice president for student development and enrollment services, told the News-Journal that the university police had been unaware of a change in the free-assembly zone policy—a change that came last spring on the heels of a FIRE case at the university.
The article describes the similar incident that took place at UCF in April 2006, prompting FIRE to intervene on behalf of SDS. Since then the university has revised its free-assembly zone policy. FIRE has been involved in the dismantling of such “zones” at West Virginia University, Texas Tech, Citrus College, the University of Nevada at Reno, the University of North Carolina–Greensboro, Colorado State University, and Clemson University.
The article also highlights FIRE’s analysis of the broader problem of campus speech codes in FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2007: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses.
In a report released this week FIRE reviews 346 policies at American colleges and universities, saying that three-fourths of them restrict speech that is protected beyond campus boundaries.
“The 2007 report confirms that speech codes are still infecting college campuses, and the public needs to be aware of these dangerous violations of students’ right to engage in free and open expression,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in a news release.
FIRE found UCF’s free-speech policies less restrictive than most other public Florida schools. The organization gives UCF a yellow light, a better grade than the red lights it gave the University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of South Florida, Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University and Florida Gulf Coast University.
Less restrictive or not, a yellow-light speech code could still be used to silence protected speech, and UCF has already demonstrated its predilection for such action. It would be better if UCF wrote its policies not in comparison with other universities, but in accord with its constitutional obligations.