TU’s free speech policy graded
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education released the report “Spotlight on Speech Codes 2012” in January to grade more than 392 public and private colleges, including Towson University, on their speech policies and how restrictive the policies are regarding student expression.
Using traffic light colors as ratings, FIRE gave TU a yellow light rating, which means that the school’s policies leave the door open for higher education officials to restrict student speech, but aren’t explicitly restrictive themselves.
The University created the Time, Place and Manner policy during the fall 2010 semester to have an official written rule so that expressive activities do not disrupt University operations, violate protected speech, endanger the safety of others, or risk destruction of property.
Deb Moriarty, vice president for student affairs, said this is exactly where Towson University wants to be concerning their policy, and that the Time, Place and Manner policy doesn’t solely regulate free speech.
“I’m sure FIRE wants us all to be green lights,” she said. “We have a responsibility to the internal community to have a policy and help the community understand when it is appropriate to have freedom of expression and when it is not. We are a multi-dimensional university. I would recommend to universities that don’t have policies like this to practice supporting free speech, but also make sure it is not messing with the academic function of the institute.”
According to Moriarty, there aren’t any plans to change Time, Place and Manner, since the policy is working well.
“Time, Place and Manner’s purpose is to create a structure so students can speak freely and have protected protest,” Moriarty said. “The policy gives us an opportunity to support the students while not being disruptive. The policy has been working. We absolutely want to be a yellow light. We want to create the right type of opportunities for free speech and for any kind of activity involving that.”
Kenan Herbert, president of the Black Student Union, said he feels the University should have more influence with the policy if other questionable matters occur.
“There have been times when there have been certain signs and markings that were offensive to certain students here and might not feel safe from the things said,” Herbert said.
Herbert also said that the responsibility of free speech doesn’t lie on solely on the faculty members in student affairs.
“I love the individuals in student affairs, but there’s only so much they can do with the parameters that are set because they can’t just think that students are upset,” he said. “They have to think of legal matters, ramifications, etc. They’re doing what they can. I know the policy is in place for a reason. I think it’s going to take students to take a stand at times.”
Moriarty said Time, Place and Manner isn’t designed to prohibit controversial speech and that the policy will present opportunities for discussions about such topics.
“When things are introduced that could cause some controversy, we have an opportunity to explore it, make forums and chances to discuss it,” Moriarty said. “What we want is to allow open disclosure, but that doesn’t mean we always agree with each other. Diversity is a thing of free speech. The question is, when people are hurt or offended, how do we make others with their own perspectives come together? I think sometimes there’s a lot of gray area between free and protected speech that people find offensive.”