Area colleges have varied approaches to student speech

May 04, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit group based in Philadelphia, has accused Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania of having repressive restrictions on student speech.

The university has defended itself, saying it allows students to say anything short of a threat, which is illegal.

The preamble to Shippensburg's 2002-2003 Code of Conduct says, "Students, as members of the academic community, are encouraged to engage in a sustained, critical, and independent search for knowledge. The University community supports this endeavor by developing policies and procedures that safeguard the freedoms necessary for the pursuit of truth and knowledge. The University will strive to protect these freedoms if they are not inflammatory, demeaning, or harmful toward others. ...

"Acts of intolerance directed toward other community members will not be condoned. ..."

Peter Gigliotti, Shippensburg's executive director for university communications and marketing, said the school has never sanctioned a student for something he or she said.


FIRE also objected to the university's policy of having two spaces for "organized demonstrations and rallies and to provide a public forum for collective expressions of opinion outside the classroom," according to a March 25 letter university President Anthony F. Ceddia wrote to the campus.

The zones "provide a place for groups and individuals to express their opinions and views publicly while ensuring the safety of individuals and property and maintaining the right of others not to participate in the demonstrations or rallies if they so choose."

Other schools

In the Tri-State area, other colleges have different approaches to what students may say and where they may say it.

  • Hagerstown Community College's Student Handbook says, "Students have the right to freedom of expression, inquiry, and assembly without restraint or censorship subject to reasonable and non-discriminatory College rules and regulations regarding time, place, and manner."

    Requests for rallies must go through the dean of students, but there haven't been any requests in many years. "It's just about unheard of here," spokeswoman Beth Stull said.

  • At Hood College in Frederick, Md., the Code of Student Conduct does not set parameters on speech, said Dave Diehl, the director of marketing and communications.

    "We try to be hands-off," he said.

    There are also no limits on where rallies may be held, although they are rarely held anywhere on campus, Diehl said.

  • Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., is drafting a "time, place, manner" policy for where rallies may be held, spokeswoman Valerie Owens said. Everyone on campus will get a chance to comment on the policy before it is adopted, which will probably be in the fall, she said.

    The college does not set any guidelines for acceptable speech, Owens said.

  • Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., has an honor code stressing personal integrity and respect for the dignity, rights and property of others. It also encourages "respect for diversity in people, ideas and opinion," but does not go into detail.

    There are no restrictions on where rallies may be held, said Joan Mitchell, the vice president for college advancement.

  • Penn State Mont Alto in Mont Alto, Pa., has set aside three areas "for expressive activity": a grassy area near the library, a gazebo area and "The Pit," which is next to the main student parking lot.

    Spokeswoman Holly Cieri said groups must reserve a space 72 hours in advance. However, since the policy was adopted four years ago, no one has reserved space, she said.

    A guideline for conduct is written into the policy. It says, "A university is inherently a marketplace of ideas, and Penn State encourages and protects the rights of members of the University community to express divergent viewpoints and opinions on matters of concern.

    "At the same time, the University expects that persons engaging in expressive activity will demonstrate civility, concern for the safety of persons and property, respect for University activities and for those who may disagree with their message, and will comply with University rules."

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