Wednesday, March 22, 2006

UNCG still doesn't get the point....

Here's a link to the most recent development in the UNCG Free Speech Zone Saga:

UNCG's attorney (a grown man who calls himself "Skip") made this ignorant statement to a News & Record reporter: "[The new policy] does away with the notion of free-speech zones completely." To illustrate just how clueless he is, let me begin by explaining the new policy.

First, the good news: The new policy does NOT designate specific "zones" any longer where students may exercise their first amendment rights. Instead, they have specific distances an assembly of students must be from certain types of facilities. And, of course, the totally reasonable restriction on blocking sidewalks and roadways.

Now the bad news: School identification is now specifically required to be present on all students participating in a peaceful assembly of any kind. It is bad enough that the state of NC requires its own citizens to carry their "papers" at all times, but now students assembling on their campus lawns must also be sure to bring their school issued ID. Have your papers out and ready for inspection...

Here's the worst part: At least 12 hours notice of an assembly or petitioning/distribution of literature must be given to campus police! This is wrong on many, many levels. This means that one individual handing out pamphlets to fellow students on his/her way to class can be subject to a violation of school policy if they did not call the police station the day before to report the intent to distribute literature. This also means that spontaneous protests are not allowed ever on campus grounds. For example, immediately following the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, many university religious organizations held prayer circles and vigils on campuses all across the country. Under UNCG's new and improved policy, this wouldn't have been allowed without the required 12 hours notice. When this was brought up in the meetings where they drafted this policy, several administrators claimed that an "exception" would be made for those kinds of events. I see, I see... but what if the event in question was directed against the University itself? Or was of a controversial nature? Would they give all of those exceptions as well? Of course not. This is yet another tool used to filter the content of speech on campus.

During the spring of 2003, when the "shock and awe" attack on Iraq was imminent, many groups planned for local emergency protests to take place on the afternoon of whichever day the administration actually went ahead and bombed the citizens of Iraq into oblivion. The idea was that we all knew *what* we were going to protest and *how* we were going to protest it, but we didn't know *when*. This widely used form of protest is still illegal on the campus of UNCG.

If the Chancellor of UNCG and "Skip" Capone had half a brain between them, they would realize that the only policy that needs to exist is one that states that assemblies or groups of students are subject to the same regulations as individual students. Assemblies must not be allowed to harass or assault others, block thoroughfares, create excessive noise or incite a riot. These are all restrictions that already exist for all students, faculty and staff that attend UNCG (and for all individuals in the state of North Carolina). Why not leave it at that and let *peaceful* assembly thrive on campus?

Stay tuned for updates on continuing protests and direct action from the College Libertarians....


Blogger Rick said...

I'm curious. Does this mean UNCG will no longer be visited by the Gideons who annually distribute their little green-covered Bibles because they will not be able to produce "school identification"?

8:42 AM  
Blogger Matt Hill Comer said...

There is more to the policy that what was explained in this post. And yes, the Gideons will still be allowed on campus, but the regulations regarding them are different as they are not students or faculty of the university.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Matt Hill Comer said...

Also let me add that it was felt by many on the committee and off the committee that the lowered 12 hours notice (from 48 hrs) was more than reasonable. Like I said to the News and Record: this new policy correctly and RESPONSIBLY balances an individual student's right or a group of students' right to assemble against another student's right to education and the University's obligation to protect each.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Allison Jaynes said...

I will post the full text of the policy as soon as I get a copy of it. I have requested it from several people on the board including Matt Hill. Yes, there is more to the policy. The Gideons will be allowed but only with a written invitation from an affiliated student organization. I think it's safe to say we will not be hearing from the Gideons very often anymore.

I'm interested as to why a reduction from 48 hours required notice to 12 hours notice is a victory. Free speech and peaceful assembly are rights that do NOT require notification - that's the whole *point*.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Susan Hogarth said...

Matt says:
this new policy correctly and RESPONSIBLY balances an individual student's right or a group of students' right to assemble against another student's right to education

You need to explain how the right of peacable assembly could possibly interfere with the right to education. No 'balancing act' is neccessary - it is only neccessary that assemblies are held peacably and do not disrupt classes. 12 hours' notice will not in itself change an assembly's character and make it peacable. Such restrictions are, in effect, declaring the demonstrators guilty of an act (disruption) which they have not performed and presumably have no intent to perform.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Ryan Radford said...

Allison and Susan -
There was no way possible for everyone to get this passed with all their personal wants in it, that's how politics goes. I'm sorry that you're disappointed with the way the policy was changed, but it is now, at least in the minds of myself and the majority of the committee members, wholly constitutional.

The Gideons will still be on campus, they only have to be invited by one student, staff or faculty member, department, or organization. Somehow I doubt it will be difficult for them to find one in 16,000 people to write an invitation for them.

The 12 hour restriction was a compromise... the University is liable if a demonstration turns violent, and they have a responsibility to protect everyone present. If you're planning something, 12 hours is not unreasonable. The police are on call 24/7, so you can call any time and let them know you're planning something; it's not difficult or restrictive.

As far as spontaneous protests go, we discussed this at length, and it was ultimately decided that things DO happen that need action immediately. All you have to do is let someone know - call the police and tell them what's going on, they're not going to tell you 'no'. Does this leave the opportunity open for them to tell you no? Yes, it does, I will agree that that is a possibility. But anything is a possibility, and until you can prove that this is a problem, it's a fair compromise.

Susan, your concern about no balancing act being necessary is unfounded... the University has a mission to provide a place for people to learn, not provide a place where every radical protestor in the state of North Carolina can raise hell. We're not in the '60s any more, and as long as I'm paying tuition, I expect to be able to learn without distraction. Again, you can't get everything you want out of this policy, and I think we were more than fair in protecting everyone's rights

Allison, I'll attempt to get you a copy of the policy... all I have at this point are drafts that were circulated, which is why I've hesitated to give it to you. I'd prefer to have an official copy than having an incorrect draft being posted on the internet.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Roch101 said...

"it is now, at least in the minds of myself and the majority of the committee members, wholly constitutional."

That's wholly debatable and please see:

1:06 PM  
Blogger jimcaserta said...

I think the policy is flawed from the start:
"Outdoor Assemblies and Distribution/Petitioning on University property at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro are limited to the following:
(1) University departments, affiliated student organizations, students, faculty and staff, (“affiliated persons or groups”)and (2) those unaffiliated persons or groups invited in writing by affiliated student organizations or University units1."

Anyone who's studied at the University of Florida knows about the Hare Krishna lunches at the Plaza of the Americas. The provide free lunch, and distribute their information, in addition to many others who preach/distribute information all across campus. I doubt the Krishna's are invited, and I'm sure their presence ticks off some students. But I could never imagine UF ever telling them they couldn't pass out pamphlets because they weren't "invited."

The whole ID thing is not kosher. Most universities have policies that students need to show ID upon request, but requiring a non-student to show ID because they are on school property is not legal.

Why is this policy even needed, and why is UNCG being so restrictive?

The whole policy is online at the news & record site.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Matt Hill Comer said...

Although a public university is public property and, therefore, the property of the People, the first and foremost PURPOSE of the University (as determined by the People and their elected representatives) is to provide an education to the People, not to give them a pulpit from which they can spout their views. Free speech and assembly are, of course, encouraged as a part of academic freedom, but the University should take every effort to make sure that its focus and the focus of its commuity remains upon the PRIMARY PURPOSE of its existence, that being education, not free speech and assembly.

That is just one of many reasons why the policy gives the VERY REASONABLE and PRACTICAL regulations it does.

I will also echo Ryan's statements. This whole process has been very, very political. Ryan and I, both ardent supporters of Free Speech, had to make many compromises in order to get a policy which would be most likely to please the Courts, our nation's laws, the Administration, the faculty and staff and, above all, the students (who are, in conjunction with the University's primary purpose of education, our primary focus as an audience and those the University is intended to serve).

The argument and debate over Free Speech and Assembly become quite different when one is considering other pubicly-owned pieces of property such as parks, which have historically and traditionally been held as areas in which citizens usually gather to express their views and assemble. Universities, on the other hand, are places which must serve the publicly-mandated purpose of education and serving students.

On the subject of the twelve hour advance notice: University police shifts run on an eight-hour schedule. The twelve hour advance notice gives the University Police Department the adequate amount of time in order to bring in extra officers if necessary and update following shifts on the events planned or intended for the day. The twelve hour advance notice stands only to serve the public safety and general welfare; it does not stand as a way in which the University can "filter speech".

During our hearings in the committee, we were very, very careful in how the policy was worded and put together in order to avoid any possibility of speech or content being filtered or censored by the University Administration. University Counsel, Skip Capone, made sure to keep reminding us of this at every possible moment. The freedom for all people to speak uncensored and unfiltered was of utmost importance to the committee and its members. One faculty member more than once brought up instances in which students and departments had exhibits and/or assemblies which were offensive and/or considered grotesque to the majority of people on campus. The point to these stories of these instances was to show that no matter how offensive the speech, the University has no authority to censor it or filter it.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Rusty Sheridan said...

I dare say this battle isn't over by a long shot.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Paul Elledge said...

Matt and Ryan,

Rights by definition cannot be subject to compromise. You either have a right to do something, or you don't. When you do have a right to do something, it's either being respected, or it's being violated.

Having a right to do something means you can do it unconditionally.

The new UNCG rule places a condition on your right to speak--giving notice of your intent 12 hours in advance. That's a violation of your rights.

I'm sorry to hear that you're willing to surrender your rights so cheaply.

5:01 AM  
Blogger Paul Elledge said...

It most definitely isn't over, Rusty.

5:02 AM  
Blogger Joel said...


Great job. Reading all the justifications for continued oppression of Free Speech at UNCG reminds me of, well, the former Soviet Union's or the present China's justification for denial of rights, "for the sake of the State," for the sake of "mission of the State." But then I am reminded that this is the policy of a University, perhaps the most oppresive sort of insitution in the land when it comes to free expression of ideas, well, next to Guilford County Public Schools. Seems folks so unable to compromise on other issues are too quick to justify compromise on this issue.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Ryan Radford said...

Paul, I'm going to be blunt with you - we are not in a Libertarian society. This policy, as far as the committee could discern, IS constitutional, and IS in the best interest of everyone involved.

Allison, I appreciate your efforts in bringing thi issue to light over the last few months, but you have to know when to draw a line. I suggest that if you honestly feel that your rights are being hindered by the new policy, that you go talk to Skip about it so he can explain why every aspect of it is currently legal. If that doesn't work, challenge it again... see if they try to give you an honor code violation again, because I think we both know, it's not going to happen.

Additionally, and I mean this in the most cordial possible way, you and Rob only showed up for the first two meetings. If you had concerns, they were not brought to any member of the committee. Matt and I stressed to you guys repeatedly that if you came to the meetings, we woud yield you all the time you wanted to make sure your opinion was heard. You did not take advantage of that, and we therefore did the best we could to represent the interests of the student body. I'm sincerely sorry if you do not feel we accomplished that.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Paul Elledge said...

"Paul, I'm going to be blunt with you - we are not in a Libertarian society."


"This policy, as far as the committee could discern, IS constitutional,"

Then I suggest you go back and read the Constitution again and then again if necessary until you understand it.

I wouldn't care if it were constitutional though. Private slavery was once constitutional, but that didn't mean it was right.

"and IS in the best interest of everyone involved."

Thanks, dad.

"see if they try to give you an honor code violation again, because I think we both know, it's not going to happen."

So you admit that they passed a rule that they have no intention of enforcing? Why?

9:48 PM  
Blogger Allison Jaynes said...

Of course our concerns were brought before the committee. We specifically requested that the committee follow FIRE's guidelines for a constitutional policy... and those were largely ignored. Both Rob and I were at the first meeting, Rob was at the second, a College Libertarians representative was at the third, and I was at the last meeting when you were absent. We paid close attention to everything that went on. And we were clear from the beginning about what we wanted the new policy to look like.

You say "This policy, as far as the committee could discern, IS constitutional..." Well, thank god committees such as this are not in charge of interpreting the constitution. It is never constitutional to require a citizen to call the police on themselves when they are not harming anybody.

That being said, you and Matt were both voices of reason on that board full of misinformation. So thank you both for what you did accomplish.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Ryan Radford said...

Campus Speech Policy Guidelines from FIRE

1. The default position of any policy should be that free speech is the norm all over the campus. In general, policies should say what a university can't do in specific language, and, to a far lesser extent, what restrictions are permissible and when. A truly progressive policy would mirror the Bill of Rights. (An additional advantage to the University of having hard and fast rules that they cannot interfere with student's First Amendment rights is that it helps insulate the University from liability in situations where a student might sue the university for some alleged injury resulting from First Amendment activities)

This is the only section "ignored," if you choose to call it that. The University, from what I understand, is assuming liability by having the 12-hour notice, but that in now way restricts free-speech.

2. Universities are allowed to enforce "reasonable time, place and manner restrictions" on activities that would significantly disrupt university functioning. However, time, place, and manner restrictions should be minimal. Thus, schools cannot outlaw speech for most of the day and night. They cannot restrict speech to a small portion of the campus, nor to inaccessible or sparsely used/populated areas of the campus only. The speech has to be generally accessible to the population at large-and especially to the target audience.

In keeping with our first point, time, place, and manner restrictions should not be construed to create permanent areas on campus where speech is presumptively not allowed. The standard should be "unless or until an expressive seriously and demonstrably interferes with an actual or activity or university function (which includes studying and sleeping) the activity it is presumed that it is permitted." This leaves proper regulation of disruption to a case-by-case basis and location-by-location basis. Therefore, what would be okay to regulate in a classroom might not be in the athletics field. "Free speech zones" are incompatible with this idea, as they presume all speech activities will be disruptive and must be moved to some discreet part of campus out a general fear if disruption.

This section is followed 100%.... was eliminating free speech zones not the point of this whole thing? Perhaps I'm mistaken.

3. Speech may not be unduly restricted by pre-registration regulations, onerous monetary deposit requirements, or expensive insurance requirements. No rule that allows the school substantial discretion to impose conditions on speech for groups or individuals is allowable. Discretionary decisions need to be "content and viewpoint neutral," that is they implicate factors like noise or interfering with traffic flow--nothing relating to the substance of the speech.

This section is fully complied with as well. The University does not have substantial discretion in imposing restrictions on groups. There is no pre-registration (as there used to be, if you've forgotten already), only prior notification.

4. Speech activities should not be unduly restricted by "neatness" and "cleanliness" considerations. A school may require that students clean up after a rally or a leafleting. A school may not stop leafleting because of a generalized fear that students might not clean up afterwards. Of course, if a particular group has a demonstrated history of not cleaning up after its own mess, then modest restrictions might be in order -- such as a monetary bond to cover the cost of a clean-up service. Only in light of past failures should a group be saddled with such pre-conditions.

This section is fully complied with.

5. Demonstrative activities should not be restricted in the name of aesthetics. It is reasonable to ask students to put the campus area back to its original condition after a large demonstration or leafleting (beyond normal wear and tear, which is a normal cost of operation for a university), but it's not reasonable to prohibit an expressive activity in advance for fear that it will make a mess or be unaesthetic. (This is related to #4, above.)

This section is fully complied with.

I'm not sure how you define "largely ignored," Allison, mind explaining it to me?

11:28 PM  
Blogger Allison Jaynes said...

Guidelines 4 and 5 are mostly insignificant since they deal with the aesthetics of the University land area, not the principle of the matter. However, Guidelines 1-3 are the important ones. The second one, concerning reasonable time, place and manner restricitions, was not followed in UNCG's original policy but the new policy you guys have written does comply with this guideline. That is the good news that has come out of all this.

Guidelines 1 and 3 are still not being followed. The first one states that "policies should say what a university can't do in specific language." But your new Facility Use policy doesn't do that. It has a laundry list of things that students must comply with, but nothing that says what the University can't do as far as action against the students. According to your policy, students who participate in any kind of assembly must be sure to carry not only their state of NC ID's but also their UNCG ID cards, they must notify the University 12 hours before the event, and they must comply immediately with any directive given by a University official. But it places no restrictions on what those University officials may do to a group of students who they don't like. *That* is the scary part.

The third guideline is also not followed. It states that the University must not demand any "pre-registration regulations." But that's exactly what the 12 hour notification is! It's pre-registration. No, you don't need *permission* to assemble, but you sure as hell have to sign up... 12 hours in advance in fact.

Again, the first 3 guidelines are the ones that are significant out of the 5. The original UNCG policy adhered to NONE of those 3 guidelines. Now, you've rewritten it so it adheres to 1 out of the 3. That is what I mean by "largely ignored." When 2/3 of the consitutional compliant guidelines are ignored, I think that qualifies as "largely."

3:08 PM  
Blogger Ryan Radford said...

no·ti·fy: To give notice to; inform

I don't understand how you're construing this as "you sure as hell have to sign up... 12 hours in advance in fact."

I'm sorry, I really just don't get it. You call them and say "we ARE doing this," not "CAN WE do this?"

They cannnot say no if you give them notice. For any reason.

I'll concede that the ID and direction parts are troubling, but this one really shouldn't be the issue.

11:03 PM  

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