Post Classifieds

Committee decides against free speech zone designation

By Adam Troxtell
On January 31, 2012

A committee organized to review A&M-Commerce's free speech policy has decided it is in the best interests of the university to not designate a free speech zone on campus.

This makes the entire campus a public forum on which students can rally or protest; however, it does leave any gatherings with a chance of being shut down if they are disruptive to the academic environment.

"They would be able to go anywhere on campus," Director for Diversity, Cultural and Judicial Affairs Robert Dotson said. "It comes down to not being a disruption to the academic environment, and that is framed in the code of conduct. It does have some elements of breaking laws, so it's relative to what that protest, demonstration or gathering looks like."

Dotson chaired the ad-hoc committee, which was formed at the end of last year in response to the university's central hub switching from The East Circle to the area between the Rayburn Student Center (RSC) and the Science Building. The committee was also composed of members from Facilities, Risk Management, UPD, RSC, Marketing and Publicity, and Student Government Association.

While The East Circle was never officially designated as a free speech zone, it was a common place to find student rallies in the past. Since the RSC has been build and the old student center was torn down, Dotson formed a committee to see if designating a free speech zone would be helpful to the new campus environment.

Dotson said the committee considered how other universities had treated the free speech zone issue, which has caused some controversy. By designating one, the university would be tasked with finding the most suitable area, leaving them open for potential court action if the location or parameters surrounding the free speech zone are deemed unconstitutional.

"There is a great divide amongst schools that have designated speaking areas," Dotson said. "In looking at that and consulting with attorneys and individuals at other institutions and individuals here, that just seems to be the best course of action here and now. That doesn't mean it's in stone forever. For where we are now, this move serves our purpose."

While there are regulations at A&M-Commerce regarding student behavior, there is no statute specifically dedicated to free speech on campus.

"Within the academic community in terms of classroom, there is a rule that the compliance committee will be looking at, but it does not speak to free speech zone," Dotson said.

Currently, a protest or rally can take place anywhere on campus; however, the moment someone complains that the gathering is a disruption to the university's academic environment, it can be shut down by UPD. Lt. Jason Bone said this is when the laws regarding any student gathering enter a gray area.

"Someone still has to complain about that and say it's disrupting to them," Bone said. "Somebody has to say ‘we are not able to have our lecture because of this.' What we would do would be any applicable laws, and it would be a very gray area. It depends on what it is that is being disruptive as to whether or not we can do anything about it."

For more on this story, pick up a Feb. 2 copy of The East Texan print edition. 

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