MU committee proposes free speech and expression policy

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COLUMBIA - The Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Protests, Public Spaces, Free Speech and the Press announced its policy proposal on free speech and expression at the University of Missouri Thursday afternoon. 

The policy proposal aims to "clarify and complement our existing policies concerning use of facilities and spaces on campus while protecting the fundamental right of free expression," Chancellor Hank Foley said in an email. 

"One of the things the document does is bring together existing policies the university has that are sometimes not well known, that are sometimes hard to access, that are sometimes may not be clear that there is some provision buried in some regulation thats been around for 30, 40 years that's relevant to this issue," said Robert Jerry Chair for the Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Protests, Pubic Spaces, Free Speech and MU Law Professor.  

"We've tried to bring all of those together in one place," he said. 

"I know our university community values a deep commitment to freedom of expression, and I believe the framework provided by the committee will help us move forward in supporting an environment that encourages inquiry and civil debate about issues that affect us all," Foley said. "I welcome suggestions of how the draft policy can be improved to best accomplish this goal."

The committee is recommending that Campus Mediation Service be "made available to mediate disagreements about free expression issues" that happen on campus and and "disagreements that involve using campus facilities and grounds."  

It is recommending MU make improvements to better understand its community members and their First Amendment rights. 

This would include using statements about the university's commitment to free expression in student orientation packets and encouraging campus departments to schedule speakers to talk about free speech and free speech issues.

Finally, the committee recommend the proposal "become the subject of further discussion and vetting in appropriate campus aspects governance organizations."

There are five main elements listed in the proposal outlined in an email from the committee chair.

  • The policy is made to align with a Missouri statute on how outdoor spaces on public university campuses are used for "expressive" events and activities.
  • MU won't "interfere with expressive activities unless participants engage in one of the policy's specifically enumerated behaviors." This would include behaviors falling within "the scope of reasonable time, place, or manner limitations set by the Supreme Court.
  • The policy has a default principle that would allow unscheduled expression activity in any outdoor area at MU unless the expression happens at Stankowski Field, the "green space" around the Chancellor's home, areas managed by the MU Athletic Department, Hinkson Recreational Playing Fields, Epple Field (field south of Green Tennis Center), parking lots during time periods when parking permits are not required and the green spaces adjacent to residence halls unless scheduled and approved by a Coordinator. Other outdoor areas that are available for reservation up to 24 hours in advance can include places like Francis and Carnahan Quadrangle.
  • The policy creates a clear understanding of what the MU community can reserve for events and activities. 
  • The policy provides one place where University policies for free expression in public spaces can be found. 

 

Danielle Feit, a senior at the University of Missouri, said she doesn't necessarily think the proposal would effect future protests. 

"I think that no matter what in heated situations people don't always use their best judgment and will do whatever they want to be heard."

"If we're restricted in any way then that prevents us from speaking about worldly issues that are all effecting us," said Corey Smith University of Missouri-St. Louis student. 

"As students, we're here to learn, to grow and to become better citizens and part of that option is to be able to express yourself and how you feel and the government allows you to have that expression through our First Amendment rights," said Perri Smith, a visiting student from Indiana University. 

The committee is asking for "recommendations about how future conflicts regarding the use of public space on campus can be diffused," and it said, "no single policy can anticipate and answer all questions about the full range of possible future disputes about the use of public space."

"Throughout that process of campus wide discussion then what I would happen then is that we would arrive upon a broadly based consensus," Jerry said. "I don't think it will ever be unanimous, but a broadly based consensus that this is a good way to move forward with public spaces at the University of Missouri."

"I think we've drafted a very good document, but this area is complex. I think with more time and more reflection, I'm certain someone can come up with a suggestion that would make it a better document," Jerry said. 

[Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect student and faculty opinion and correct a misspelling.]

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