The College Heights Herald, the main student newspaper at Western Kentucky University (WKU), reports a promising development coming from WKU’s Student Government Association. Student senator Christopher Costa, the Herald reports, is preparing a resolution for consideration by the SGA that would call for the removal of WKU’s External Computer Use and Ethics policy from WKU’s student handbook. The section on external computer use (part of WKU’s Information Technology policy), states:
Communications on sites such as Facebook, etc. will not be actively policed; however, students should be aware that the information posted on the internet can be viewed by university officials at any time. Accessible communications deemed inappropriate may lead to disciplinary action.
This language contributes, in fact, to the one "red light" policy WKU currently has in FIRE’s Spotlight database, so reforming or eliminating it could have a significant impact on WKU’s speech code rating. As the Herald reports:
If the resolution passes, Costa said he wants to go to the administrators to discuss the issue.
"If it’s not breaking the law, the university shouldn’t be stepping in and tramping on the free speech of students," Costa said.
Costa said as a senator, he wants to be an advocate for students.
"They should feel free to exercise their First Amendment rights at a public university," Costa said.
I applaud Costa’s initiative, and hope his fellow SGA members take note and support the resolution. I also encourage Costa to consider the other troublesome portions of WKU’s IT policy that contribute to its "red light" rating, including its definition of "inappropriate conduct," which includes "[t]ransmitting statements, language, images or other materials that are reasonably likely to be perceived as offensive or disparaging of others based on race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, religious or political beliefs" and "[s]oliciting money for religious or political causes, or advocating religious or political opinions." Considering that nearly any email expressing opposition to a candidate in this year’s presidential election would violate this policy, one would think this would be an easy one for WKU to eliminate.
The Herald notes that Costa’s resolution, if it passes, is not binding on the administration. It’s a promising start, though, and we’d be happy to see another example of students working proactively with their university administrations to reform troublesome speech codes. Here’s hoping that Costa’s resolution is merely the first step toward wider speech code reform at WKU.