When it comes to voicing opinions on Main Campus, the limits aren’t always cut and dry.
British Oligarchy, Furious At Obama, Could Go For the Kill.” “Stop Obama’s Nazi Health Plan.” The eye-catching signs and pamphlets require a double-take just to absorb the egregious accusations.
But whose job is it to decide what is appropriate for students’ ears?
A student aligned with conservative views could be wary of affirmative action policies, as could a liberal aficionado detest a pro-life rally on campus. The answer: If you don’t like what a group is promoting, you just have to show some respect for the First Amendment.
Temple has strict policies on how student organizations and external groups are allowed to disseminate literature on campus, but that is overshadowed by a larger precedent of free-speech on campuses across the U.S.
“The university cannot discriminate against ideas that it likes and doesn’t like… I’d be sensitive to this if students were being clamped down on. Yet the university is in a tough position. What is hateful speech?” said Thomas Eveslage, professor of journalism, law and ethics.
The pamphlets and shouts of members of the LaRouche Political Action Committee, a non-Temple group that adheres to the values of politician and author Lyndon LaRouche, jolt students as they jostle through campus. The strong anti-government rhetoric and unconventional views hallmark the great debate of how open this campus should be.
Temple’s track record on freedom of speech so far has been relatively unscathed, and branding itself with the infamous “d” word – diversity – causes First Amendment policies to be integral to the mood of this campus.
From political groups to religious groups, student organizations in good standing have the right to set up a table on-campus, promote their views and hold events in university-owned buildings.
University campuses are maintained to be free and open places.
“A university is a marketplace of ideas where different groups exchange [thoughts] that they’ve never heard of,” Eveslage said. “Students are adults on campus, and you are supposed to be exposed to new ideas. Courts tell universities to keep that marketplace open. Don’t punish ideas that you particularly don’t like.”
The only time Temple should step in to regulate freedom of speech is if there is a crime attached to fighting words.
Bigoted comments are not enough to lead to a punishment, but “students that break into a residence hall and paint a swastika on a door can be punished on the basis of defacing property and can be given a more severe penalty if it was racially motivated,” Eveslage said.
Limiting free speech has not been a significant problem on Temple’s campus, but there have been many cases of universities trying to regulate the thoughts of its students.
The Center for Campus Free Speech reports that at the University of California San Diego, the administration’s proposed policy would have “prohibited all protests and student events without prior university approval, banned political speech by university employees while on campus and effectively assigned minders to student demonstrations.”
Luckily, students at UC San Diego fought back through rallies and had the law revoked.
What about ongoing protests involving Main Campus, like the budget crisis in Harrisburg, which could potentially lead to tuition hikes? Or what if a group of students wanted to invalidate a law they perceived as unfair?
“The best instrument is a group of people who are restricted with an unfair law. If they are punished – that can call attention to a particular piece of policy,” Eveslage said.
“Use the Senate, student body and faculty to call attention to this… and these forces would change policy. Public rallies at the Bell Tower are not the best place to start. Go to a part of Temple that has influence. Find out who is on the policy committee and speak with them,” he said.
The forum idea at Temple is relatively new. Eveslage said he remembers when there were two major faculty strikes in the 1980s.
“Back then there were only about 2,000 students on campus,” Eveslage said, “and not enough faculty to get involved.”
There were fewer publications and fewer student organizations. Main Campus closed down at night as much of the student population commuted.
In 2009, with a great deal of student organizations as well as community-outreach programs, Temple students can use a variety of resources to exercise the First Amendment – that is to assemble, speak and write on behalf of the Cherry and White.
Mark Newman can be reached at email@example.com.