Students at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts are much freer today than they were a year ago, thanks to a significant revision in university policy. Since being named FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month in January 2006, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) has dramatically changed its policies. This victory for free expression follows a similar turn of events just over a year ago at Albertson College of Idaho.
In January 2006, FIRE featured MCLA’s Picketing Policy as our Speech Code of the Month. The policy in effect at that time provided that:
There shall be no interference with a demonstration on the grounds of content of speech, except for any speech or demonstration, which incites immediate violent actions, represents a clear and present danger to the community, or victimizes others because the speech contains offensive language and/or is motivated by hate or bias.
As FIRE pointed out at the time, MCLA’s Picketing Policy “could easily be used to suppress almost any student demonstration,” since the nature of a demonstration is such that it “will often, if not always, offend people who hold opposing beliefs.”
In a positive development for liberty on campus, MCLA has totally revised the policy highlighted in the Speech Code of the Month article to bring it in line with the college’s constitutional obligations. In the 2006-2007 Student Handbook, the policy has been renamed the Free Speech and Assembly Policy, and the relevant section now provides that:
There shall be no interference with a demonstration on the grounds of content of speech, except for any speech or demonstration, which incites immediate violent actions, represents a clear and present danger to the campus community, is motivated by hate or bias and may constitute a violation of state law.
In addition, the policy now emphasizes that:
MCLA embraces a student’s right to free speech and assembly and recognizes that an exercise of one’s freedom of expression can contribute to individual and community learning.
Unfortunately, FIRE cannot yet update MCLA’s “red light” rating on Spotlight, because the college still maintains other policies that restrict students’ freedom of speech. Nonetheless, MCLA deserves to be commended for making this significant policy change and moving in the direction of more, rather than less, liberty for its students—the opposite of what many colleges and universities are doing these days. FIRE hopes that this policy change marks the beginning of an ever-increasing climate of freedom at MCLA.