Last December, YAF rolled out its annual list of “Academia’s Top 10 Abuses,” and at the top of the list stood Yuba College in California. Yuba had threatened student Ryan Dozier with arrest and expulsion for peacefully handing out gospel tracts on a campus sidewalk.
But what rule did Ryan violate? Why, a policy that limited on-campus speech to one hour on Tuesdays and one hour on Thursdays, of course. Yes, that’s correct–two hours of free speech per week (with permission required two weeks in advance). And that speech couldn’t take place anywhere. The “speech zone,” limited both the time and the place so that Ryan Dozier had minimal access to his own campus.
Nor was the school content with its draconian speech zone. It’s anti-harassment policies were nothing more than a classic university speech code.
It should be remarkable that a school would maintain such policies in the presence of more than two decades of consistent and clear court precedent, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that speech codes and speech zones have to be sued into oblivion, school by school. Colleges and universities rarely make changes outside the white-hot glare of judicial (or public) scrutiny.
And so, with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, Ryan challenged his school (I can hardly take credit for the case, since it mostly occurred while I was in Iraq), and yesterday he won a resounding victory. The university settled the case and agreed to a consent order that repealed the speech code, repealed the speech-zone policy, and provided for thousands of dollars of attorneys’ fees.
Stories of academic abuses don’t have to be tales of woe. They can also contain within them the seeds of real change. By standing against the university’s censorship, Ryan has given the gift of liberty to each student at Yuba, and that is an academic record to be proud of.