We often think of the university campus as an open forum where students can voice their opinions under full protection of the First Amendment. So it seems.
With so many different clubs and organizations on campus representing a diverse range of viewpoints, students rarely question Cal Poly’s free speech codes and recent history. Unfortunately, as many conservative organizations across the nation have come to realize, university administrations quite often feel that their campus lies outside the boundaries of the Bill of Rights.
Luckily, the non-partisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has fiercely combated this educational trend in its fight to defend and sustain individual rights on college campuses. FIRE has no time for ineptitude or administrative games.
Here are just a few examples:
Bucknell University says no to Conservatives
As FIRE reports, The Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC) was censored on several occasions by their administration. And the Bucknell administration actually lied (as audio and video accounts confirm) when FIRE investigated these incidents.
What exactly was considered intolerable to the administration? The club quietly distributed “Obama stimulus dollars” which “violated” the university’s inapplicable solicitation policy. The members also attempted to host affirmative action bake sales, but were shut down on a few occasions — one excuse being the “price discrepancy” of their sale.
Wait a sec — isn’t that the point of an affirmative action bake sale?
Associate dean of students Gerald Commerford answered “No” over and over again to BUCC’s pleas just to make himself perfectly clear. Even more ironic is that BUCC offered to use a sign that “merely suggested satirical, optional pricing” and was still rejected. This case is ongoing.
Northern Arizona University (NAU) “flags” itself as unpatriotic
A small group of conservative students at NAU were handing out “small American flags in the student union to commemorate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,” the Daily Caller reported. An administrator told them to stop because they were not in “an approved vendor space” (although they were not selling anything).
Three other administrators approached the students and called the cops, who then disbanded this “illicit” activity.
While the university dropped the case, they defeated a patriotic activity that had special significance on Sept. 11.
The only likely conclusion: anti-conservative sentiment.
Lone Star College “targets” Conservatives
During a general recruitment event, the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) were distributing a satirical flyer of “Top 10 Gun Safety Tips.” Frothing with deprecation, the student life program manager for the Lone Star College-Tomball Student Life Shannon Marino “reportedly told the YCT Chairman that the flyer was ‘inappropriate’ and confiscated the flyers.” Upon appeal, the dean of student development concurred, and even went a step further, proposing disbandment and probation as options for the club.
Why? Because apparently the mere “mention of firearms and weapons” interferes with school operations as it “brings fear and concern to students, faculty and staff.”
Okay, and while we’re at it, let’s pretend the Second Amendment is invisible, too.
With the intervention of FIRE, let’s just say the university’s case did not go very far.
Cal Poly victimizes a “flyer poster”: the Steve Hinkle affair
Finally, Cal Poly has had its share of civil liberty infringements, most notably the Steve Hinkle case of 2002.
If you’re not familiar with this case, Cal Poly tried to violate the free speech rights of College Republicans member Steve Hinkle by punishing him for posting a flyer.
The poster was advertising a speech given by African-American speaker (and former Black Panther) Mason Weaver called “It’s Okay to Leave the Plantation.” The administration claimed that Hinkle disrupted a meeting by posting the flyer (although no sign, announcement or record of such an event existed). Apparently, the “context” was not clear enough for the “affected students” who were utterly “offended” by the flyer. A ridiculous, seven-hour Cal Poly hearing decided that Hinkle was guilty, and the administration ordered that Hinkle write apologies to the offended students — a forced admission of guilt that would stain his disciplinary record.
FIRE and the Center for Individual Rights intervened, and Cal Poly settled after a year and a half litigation battle. And they had to swallow Hinkle’s hefty $40,000 attorney bill.
The reason why you may never have heard about this nationally publicized case is because it remains a sore topic for the Cal Poly administration, although I’m sure former President Warren Baker doesn’t lose sleep over it as he thinks about his six-figure per year pension.
And yet, Cal Poly still remains a “yellow light campus” in terms of free speech. Codes in two areas (specified on FIRE’s website) remain “ambiguous,” encouraging “administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”
I’m optimistic that Weaver’s return to campus next Tuesday, Nov. 8, will serve as a wake-up call to students and administrators about an unresolved issue that has left a deep scar on our college campus. Weaver awakened a misguided administration and provoked a “closer” reading of the First Amendment here at Poly with his 2002 visit. Hopefully, his visit next week will inspire the administration to finish the job.
Weaver’s speech, titled “Freedom on Your Campus,” will start at 7:10 pm in the Business building, room 213, and will be open to the public. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to stand up for your rights.