Southeastern Louisiana University, a public school, allows its students to exercise their rights to free speech and free assembly for only two hours per week.
The university’s speech-limiting rules can be found in its University Policy on Public Speech, Assembly, and Demonstrations:
“In accordance with US Federal Court decisions, the University has the right to regulate the time of speech or assembly activities. A two (2) hour time period will be provided to individual(s) and/or organizations for these purposes at Southeastern,” the policy states. “Speech/assembly activities will be limited to one two hour time limit per seven-day period, commencing the Monday of each week.”
In addition to restricting when speech is allowed, Southeastern also strictly limits where it is allowed. According to the policy, “Public discussion and/or peaceful public assembly or demonstration” is allowed “without prior administrative approval” in three locations only: the steps of and the “grassy area” near the Student Union Annex, the “grassy area in front of” a student-activity center, and the “Presidential Plaza area.” Furthermore, students need to register to use these spaces for “public speech or assembly a minimum of seven (7) days in advance through the office of Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs.”
The university has earned a “red light” rating — the worst possible — from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Looking at these policies, it’s really not hard to see why.
Maybe I’m missing something, but I really don’t understand the thinking behind policies as strict as these. After all, as far as I have always understood it, college is supposed to be a time for young people to explore different thoughts and ideas and to learn how to effectively articulate their own. If education in these areas was a goal of this college, you would think that it would want to encourage more speech, not less. Allowing only two measly hours out of the 168 hours in each week for students to express themselves is really not a reasonable portion of time.
Some of Southeastern’s other rules are equally unreasonable. For one, limiting the areas where speech is allowed to only three spots could make it difficult for all students to find a place to express themselves. The school has more than 13,000 students — is there really going to be enough room for everyone? Requiring a seven-days-prior reservation to use those spaces is incredibly restrictive as well. If something happens that students feel passionate about, they should have the freedom to host a peaceful protest or other sort of peaceful assembly on campus as soon as they feel compelled to do so. Forcing them to have to wait seven days is absolutely ridiculous when you consider how fast the news cycle moves.
It’s important for the next generation to be civically minded, and to know how they can use their rights to have an influence over what’s going on in the world.
The right to peaceful assembly is a very important right in our country. The fact that we do have these sorts of freedoms is what makes our country so special — and so different from so many others. Colleges and universities should be encouraging students to use those rights and freedoms, not discouraging them. It’s important for the next generation to be civically minded, and to know how they can use their rights to have an influence over what’s going on in the world. Students should be able to work this muscle as often as they can, and they certainly should not be prevented from doing so for no good reason at all.
The vast majority of people on a college campus are adults, not children, and colleges should have policies that treat them as such.
This story was previously covered in an article in the Washington Examiner.