UA hinders student growth with faulty speech code



A few days ago, Claire Chretien, president of Bama Students for Life, appeared on Fox & Friends, Fox News’s morning program, to discuss the removal of her organization’s poster from a display case in the Ferguson Center. When Chretien noticed that her poster had been prematurely removed from the case her organization had reserved, she approached a university official to discuss the issue and retrieve the poster. During that conversation, which was captured on video, Chretien was told that it was taken from the display case because of complaints and that the poster violated a Ferguson Center policy regarding “offensive or graphic material” in display cases.

In fact, no such policy exists. Research by both the author of this column and Fox News revealed no such policy in the list of display case guidelines, found on the Ferguson Center’s website.

This is not the first time some arm of the University has stifled free speech in some way. A quick glance at thefire.org, the website for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, reveals a long history of abuses on student free speech rights by the University, and such abuses span the political spectrum. In addition to this censorship of a pro-life organization, the University ended the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice’s attempts to hand out pro-choice fliers on the Quad, citing a failure to apply for the appropriate grounds use permit. When AASRJ filed for that permit to continue their activities the following day, the University denied the request on the grounds that permits had to be submitted at least 10 business days prior to the event for which the permit was requested.

Sadly, the restriction of free speech rights extends even beyond the realm of legitimate political discourse. Many readers will remember a year ago to the day of this column’s publication, when a Harlem Shake video was stopped shortly before filming in front of Gorgas Library for, interestingly enough, a failure to procure the necessary grounds use permit. Additionally, FIRE’s archives reveal that in 2003, students were prohibited from displaying flags in the windows of their dormitories due to a vague regulation against window displays that do not fall within “accepted standards.” When students and FIRE representatives alike attempted to redress their grievances with then-president Robert Witt, the solution was an attempted ban on all window displays. Thankfully, that proposal was indefinitely tabled by administration officials after students protested by displaying American flags in their windows, but it showed nonetheless that the University was willing to ban expression altogether before loosening the standards.

This is a university. This is a place where points of view are supposed to be expressed, where our conceptions of society and the world around us are supposed to be challenged and where ideas are supposed to be freely exchanged. Any attempt by the administration to restrict that process without cause hinders our intellectual and social development as human beings, which is exactly what the University is supposed to facilitate. And holding back the students in turn holds back the University itself. It’s time to allow our students to do exactly what students at every university across the country do every day: express themselves to each other. Anything less simply isn’t fair to the individual student.

Wait, I can say all that, right?

Andrew Parks is a junior majoring in political science. His column runs biweekly.

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