State Representative Michael Clark is receiving some press recently as a result of his bill to protect Free Speech on University Campuses, a measure that’s being opposed by the South Dakota Board of Regents:
“This bill protects free speech on college campuses, it removes the idea of the free speech zones and informs staff and teachers and the students of their right and responsibilities regarding free speech,” the bill’s primary sponsor, state Rep. Michael Clark, said in a phone interview with The College Fix.
Clark said he filed House Bill 1073 this month after seeing free speech come under attack at campuses in other states across the country. While noting that South Dakota hasn’t had such problems, he said it’s important to take action to ensure speakers can come to campus and speak without violence or the threat of violence.
“I’m trying to stop this before it actually becomes a huge problem,” Clark said.
The bill does allow universities to “maintain and enforce reasonable time, place and manner restrictions,” but notes that such measures must “employ clear, published, content, and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression.”
However, the head of the South Dakota Board of Regents, which oversees six public universities, said in a statement provided to The College Fix that the bill addresses issues that have arisen in other states and is not needed in the state.
“There is no problem in South Dakota that this bill will solve. The Board of Regents already established system-wide policies that safeguard First Amendment rights of students, employees, and private visitors,” said Mike Rush, executive director and CEO of the Board of Regents.
You might be reading this, wondering “Why is this needed?” Or sticking your head in the sand just like the CEO of the board of regents, claiming “The Board of Regents already established system-wide policies that safeguard First Amendment rights.”
If that’s the case, then why are there stories like this:
A professor at the University of South Dakota is refusing calls to cancel the screening of a controversial documentary that depicts brutality against Muslim women.
The “Honor Diaries” is scheduled to be screened at the university’s annual women and gender conference on April 10. But another screening of the film that was supposed to take place Sunday didn’t happen for reasons unknown, and there is pressure from some staff and faculty members to cancel next month’s showing.
Miglena Sternadori, a professor of media and journalism and the women and gender studies coordinator, is refusing to bow to that pressure, saying the film depicts issues that are relevant to the women and gender conference.
“It’s just the wrong thing to do to censor a movie,” she said.
The Foundation for Individual Right in Education, or FIRE, has taken note of USD’s policies, and has given the university a “red” designation.
This means that USD has at least one policy that “clearly and substantially restricts free speech.” According to FIRE, there are two policies that warrant a “red” label at USD.
The first resides in the Student Handbook under Guidelines for the Awareness and Prevention of Acts of Cultural Insensitivity and Bullying at USD. Specifically, section five states: “Using university property (i.e. the USD internet server) to bully other students (cyber bullying) or express feelings of hatred via Facebook, Twitter, email or other forms of social media is not allowed.”
The second red light policy lies in USD’s Free Speech Policy, which outlines areas where free speech is allowed. The policy states that the Muenster University Center, Muenster University Center Courtyard and the I.D. Weeks Library Courtyard are the only areas where free speech is allowed.
Much like hate speech codes, free speech zones have come under legal scrutiny. The University of Cincinnati’s speech zones were recently ruled unconstitutional in federal court.
Beyond the legal issues, there’s a principle at stake: the principle of free thought and free inquiry.
When the Argus Leader writes about censorship at USD, and the University of South Dakota’s own student newspaper cites areas of concern where there are issues with the freedom of speech, it might be time to critically evaluate who to believe in this debate over whether the measure should be passed.
Do you take the word of the people on campus who are citing real and existing instances of censorship and the infringement upon free speech at one of our Universities?
Or the University system’s CEO who doesn’t want the measure passed, and would be responsible to report to the legislature on how they implement it?
I know who I believe.