Thursday, March 8, 2007

On Free Speech and Zones

I was going to wait and defer to Cameron on commenting on this story, but as more and more sites carry the story, I thought it appropriate to begin the discussion here. From the Free Culture Club:
In a mild act of civil disobedience, USC Free Culture posted flyers outside of the “Free Speech Zone” that stated simply “This is Not a Free Speech Zone.” Our focus was to explore free speech on campus within the given rules (found here) while simultaneously arguing that USC’s controlled definitions of free speech run counter to “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.”

The university soon sent us an e-mail, fining USC Free Culture for violating university policy on unapproved flyer posting and charging us an undisclosed amount for the removal of the sidewalk chalk. USC Free Culture’s scheduling privileges, which are necessary for most on-campus group activities, have been suspended until the fines are paid.

The University has a history of restricting free speech - specifically in the policy of keeping a specific and isolated area for free speech - and this new incident is yet another chapter in this sordid tale.

To add my own two cents, while the University has a duty to live up to the spirit of an academic institution, it does not surprise me at all that this is policy. We have a 2 billion dollar trust - and with that enormous war chest inevitably comes the special interests to which the school is beholden. Interests like the entertainment industry ($175 million from Lucas), the big business alumni of the Marshall School of Business, and, perhaps most blatantly, the athletic-industrial complex. Free culture is not especially important to any of these benefactors.

Now don't get me wrong, I am proud to attend the University of Southern California; we are a world class institution. However, with this status also comes an expectation of acting like a world class institution, like the leader we are, in all aspects of academia, and especially in issues of free speech.


Ed said...

It's certainly the case that private universities such as USC have special interests that are often at odds with free speech/culture. That fact wouldn't be so problematic if there were general protections in place. Unfortunately, constitutional protections don't apply to private institutions.

The issue of free speech isn't limited to USC. Over the past few years, there have been a number of conflicts over speech issues at MIT (one, two, three). In fact, MIT doesn't even have a "free speech zone" and explicitly states that students have no right to free speech in some of its policies.

So the heart of the issue seems to be whether policies exist, or should exist, to protect student speech at private universities.

b said...

I'd say that this is delicious irony if it wasn't so distasteful.

It's kind of amazing that a place that preaches free speech decides to designate areas where free speech is not allowed.


steve said...

It would seem to me that if enough students were bothered about this and each had a piece of chalk, the sheer embarrassment of "This is not a Free Speech Zone" being rechalked constantly, would eventually make a change for the better. Or is the vicinity of the area under CCTV surveillance?

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