Indiana University Southeast near Louisville, Kentucky is at the center of a free speech controversy over a school code that bars students from expressing opinions on campus except in designated free speech zones. The code flips the presumption of higher education: students must generally refrain from free speech and even apply for the right to express opinions. The code, first promulgated in 2004, is being challenged as an example of how universities are cracking down on free speech.
The IUS code is written poorly and conditions free speech on university approval. The code has an approval process for acts of “expressed opinions” which requires an application five days in advance. Thus in Kentucky you do not have a waiting period to buy a gun, but when in IUS you may have to wait for approval to engage in first amendment activities.
The guideline for students wishing to express opinions can be found here: Guidelines_FreeSpeech
It starts with this statement:
Persons wishing to express their opinions, distribute materials or assemble on campus in accordance with the state and federal constitution in relation to their right to free speech, must submit an Application to Schedule Facilities form. This form can be obtained from the Conference and Catering Office in the University Center of IUS. This Application should be submitted at least five (5) days prior to the event. Approval must be granted before an event can take place.
Notably, this is not limited to outside groups or non-students but anyone “wishing to express their opinions.” It also does not define the scope or meaning of “opinion.” Does this mean that I have to get permission to express my opinion on the Chicago Bears or my preference for skim over one-percent fat milk? The Code is written so poorly and broadly that it defies not just liberty but logic.
The regulation of speech, the school insists, is needed to prevent such speech from “endangering people or property.” Joseph Wert, associate professor of Political Science and Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Indiana University Southwest, defended the code by noting “Governments have the right to restrict the time and place of these things…” He noted that the code does not regulate on the basis for content and treats everyone the same. That argument however misses the central point. First, the Code allows officials to waive these requirements on a case-by-case basis — creating a danger of selective application. (“If the 5 day period is burdensome, and depending on what other activities are being conducted on campus, the 5 days period may be waived at the Director of Campus Life’s discretion.”). Second, even assuming that the school does not indirectly regulate speech on the basis of content in granting permission to speak, the Code asserts the need for students to speak only with permission — a dangerous lesson to instill in students in a free nation. These free speech zones have become the rage in universities around the country — allowing schools to create an enforced silence on campuses by restricting free speech to designated areas like smoking.
Moreover, Professor Wert’s argument goes too far since, under this theory, a school could all but ban free speech since it is treating all speech equally. The disruption so feared by the school is an essential part of higher education. Students come to colleges to be exposed to different ideas and people. In this environment, they experiment with different views and interact with a wide range of opinions. These free speech zones cabin free speech and free thought — reducing our campuses to the same level of interaction as a remote learning site.