Citybeat.com, a Cincinnati news and opinion website, features a story on FIRE’s list of the 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech, the University of Cincinnati’s placement on that list, and the ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit filed last month against UC for its free speech policies and practices.
Unfortunately, when it comes to their problems with free speech, UC is still in a state of denial. As my colleague Will Creeley pointed out a few weeks ago, the spin coming out of UC is really something to behold. Alas, it continues. Everyone here at FIRE put palm to face when we read the latest comments from UC spokesman Greg Hand:
Greg Hand, a UC spokesman, said FIRE has mischaracterized the school’s policies and calls its claims "a fiction." The policies require an advance notice of any controversial speech or activity so UC can provide protection for the speaker. Also, anyone who has ties to the campus generally doesn’t have to stay within the free speech zone, he added.
"If you don’t have a sponsor on campus, if you don’t have a person to vouch for you, you need to use the free speech zone," Hand said. He estimated that roughly 90 percent of the people confined to the zone are preachers who have no ties to the school.
In fact, UC’s policies state, "Students shall have the right to invite and to hear persons of their own choosing. Scheduling procedures shall not be used as a device of censorship."
What an interesting analysis of the situation! And by "interesting," I mean wrong. And not only wrong, but misleading.
Despite Hand’s protests to the contrary, FIRE is not making this stuff up. Anyone who has "ties to the campus generally" doesn’t have to stay within the free speech zone, eh? That would be news to UC student Christopher Morbitzer and his student group, the UC Young Americans for Liberty (UC YAL). Here’s a quote from one email UC’s campus scheduling office sent to Christopher after UC YAL requested permission to collect signatures for a ballot initiative outside of the free speech zone in February:
Please see your event confirmation below. You have been assigned the North-West corner of McMicken Commons [that’s the "free speech area" – FIRE], however you are not permitted to walk around.
Also note, that your event was approved despite our 5 Day Business Policy. In the future, this will not be allowed….
Per Use of Facilities, you are not permitted to walk around campus, if we are informed that you are, Public Safety [that is, the campus police – FIRE] will be contacted.
Summary: Stay here and do not "walk around" anywhere. If you do, we’ll call the cops. By the way, next time you’d better give us a week’s notice before even thinking about collecting signatures on campus.
Demonstrations, Picketing and Rallies
Groups planning a demonstration picket or rally should contact the Campus Scheduling Office or the appropriate scheduling office to familiarize themselves with University policies governing the activity. Demonstrations, picketing or rallies must be scheduled in the appropriate scheduling office and may only take place on the northwest corner of McMicken Commons. Anyone requesting to demonstrate, picket or rally must give prior notice of ten (10) working days to the University Police.
(Yes, this says 10 days notice, while the scheduling authorities said 5 days. Both the students and FIRE found that confusing, too.)
So Greg Hand evidently does not know what his own university’s policies say, or did not read them, or just doesn’t care. It’s not like UC didn’t know that the student group called UC Young Americans for Liberty was, well, a group of UC students. As for UC’s policies stating that they should not censor student speech via their confusing and illiberal scheduling policies, that’s nice to hear, but that’s clearly not what’s happening. And to quote LeVar Burton on a show that (appropriately in this case) encouraged people to read, "you don’t have to take my word for it." Take theirs.