Students criticize speech policies

Campus protesters face arrest for not being 'in the zone'

New Mexico State University passed a new speech policy in October following a lawsuit filed against the university by a graduate student who was arrested for refusing to hand over leaflets to a campus police officer.

Sean Rudolph was distributing fliers protesting the university's free-speech policies when he was arrested for obstructing an officer on Sept. 18. The officer approached Rudolph and asked him to relinquish his leaflets because he was distributing them outside of the area designated for distributing information. In addition, Rudolph did not obtain prior approval to distribute the fliers.

Rudolph dropped his lawsuit after the university agreed to drop the criminal charges against him and change the free-speech policies on campus.

Administrators enacted a temporary policy to govern campus speech until a task force undertakes a comprehensive review of the schoolĂ­s free-speech policies and develops new guidelines. The temporary policy imposes no restrictions on student speech or the distribution of materials.

"We still have some concerns about some things but we have agreed to abide by the temporary policy in the meantime, while the task force makes its recommendations," said Mike Lilley, RudolphĂ­s attorney.

Lilley said the lawsuit could be reinstated if the new policy in March does not satisfy Rudolph.

"We will dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice with respect to issues of free speech, injunctive and declaratory relief, and if we don't like what they passed, we will reactivate the lawsuit," Lilley said.

A group of about 20 students at the University of Kentucky gathered Oct. 3 to protest the free-speech zones on their campus, which the students say is in a low-traffic area, making it hard for people who want to express thoughts and ideas to communicate with others.

The University of Kentucky Campus Progressive Coalition, an organization that represents several student activist groups such as the Leftist Student Union, gathered to protest the zone and to kick off a Free Speech Campaign for the organization.

Victor Hazard, dean of students, claims that the free-speech zone the group was protesting is actually in a high-traffic area, adjacent to the student center.

Hazard also said the student protesters asked him about leafleting, and he said he told them the university had never had such a problem. Students are allowed to hand out whatever they want, he said, as long as they do not stop people from being able to walk freely.

"Students are able to move freely about the campus and communicate the things they want to communicate in a fair and orderly fashion," Hazard said. "We do have certain guidelines for assemblies and demonstrations, but the free speech zones are open 24 hours a day."

Hazard said he has total discretion over the definition of disruption.

"If there is a complaining party, be it on the free-speech area or any other area, I would have to check that situation out and determine whether it was disruptive or not," Hazard said.

A student at the University of Mississippi, in Oxford, was found guilty in October for failure to obey a police officer when he was protesting the campus newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, outside the free-speech area designated by the school.

Arthur Baker, a student member of the Society of Cogers, was arrested Aug. 28 when he refused an order by the university police to move to the free-speech area in front of Fulton Chapel. Baker said he was also protesting the concept of the free-speech zone itself, which he saw as an infringement to his First Amendment rights.

"I'm out there standing with a sign talking about free speech and liberalism, and I was busted for disorderly conduct within 15 minutes," Baker said.

Less than a week after Baker was arrested, the university changed its free-speech policy, adding two more high-traffic speech areas and removing the policy requiring a person to register with the dean of students three days ahead of time.

According to a Sept. 25 Associated Press article, Judy Trott, dean of students, said it was a coincidence that the policy changed around the time of Baker's arrest. She said university officials had been discussing the issue for several months.

Both Sparky Reardon, the associate dean of students, and Mike White, dean of students, said the university reserves the right to determine the time, location and the manner of the speaker.

"We are an educational institution," Reardon said. "We have to preserve order."

reports, Winter 2000-01