February 9, 2016

University adopts freedom of expression policy

Cleveland State University adopted a campus-wide policy on Nov. 30, 2015, allowing students to practice freedom of speech, a First Amendment right.

Any outdoor location — aside from parking lots and driveways — at Cleveland State can be used as a location to freely express any opinion that any person may have and want to show to students and faculty on campus.

The Cleveland State Board of Trustees approved the policy on Nov. 30, 2015, calling it the “Expressive Activity Policy” regarding free speech on university grounds.

Other universities, such as Youngstown State University, University of Cincinnati and University of Toledo have recently adopted this policy as well.

While this was not a result of an event occurring on campus, the University of Toledo established the policy on its grounds after campus police officers suppressed peaceful protesting activities of students in late August, according to FIRE, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — a group that promotes free speech on college campuses.

To suppress free speech simply because it was seen as a “protest” is considered unconstitutional, as that is a content-based decision that would be subject for prosecution, according to the First Amendment.

According to Chief Compliance Officer Rachel King, Cleveland State has always been in support of First Amendment rights.

“We just made this policy to make it clear,” King said, saying the university has never had an official policy stating this right.

“The old Facilities Use Procedures handbook had a section that established the area available for free speech,” she said. “I do not believe this was a formal policy of the Board of Trustees.”

This handbook section indicated that free speech had to be scheduled with campus services and can occur on the grounds between the Student Center and Rhodes Tower.

According to King, this section is no longer in the Facilities Use Procedures handbook.

Kevin O’Neill is an associate professor at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law who specializes in the study of the First Amendment — the backbone of this policy.

“This [new policy] was a very admirable effort that is consistent with the First Amendment,” King said. “I was pleasantly surprised because colleges are [establishing] political correctness on their campuses.”
O’Neill said he found this policy to be very well thought-out, as there are no attempts whatsoever to enforce political correctness. This means any form of speech, regardless of content, can be presented.

“When you regulate based upon content, you face scrutiny… which is unconstitutional,” O’Neill said.

With this new policy, “any person or group may use, without prior notification, any publicly accessible outdoor area of university’s campus except parking lots, garages and driveways,” according to the Expressive Activity Policy released by the Board of Trustees.

According to King, activities include giving speeches, handing out literature and even protests, regardless of content.

However, this policy allows the university to reserve the right to possible regulation of any free speech that may occur on campus if it is at all disruptive, obscene — meaning extremely violent, sexual or threatening to any individual.

“This [policy] is a very good effort to allow expressive activities in a very generous way,” O’ Neill said.


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