The University has started to change policies some say curtail First Amendment free-speech rights.
According to Vice President of Public Affairs Tom Jackson, the University updated its “Email and Electronic Messaging Security” standard in June. The policy that used to restrict “offensive speech” — which has earned UGA a “red light” on constitutional free speech from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — was struck.
But UGA still has a red light from FIRE because its most recent score, released last week, didn’t take this step forward into account. Now the University is clamoring that it should have earned a yellow light for free speech instead of red, and it is probably correct.
But really, should we be content with a yellow light rating?
There’s no point in arguing between two failing grades in a class: either way, the student fails.
Correcting a blatant First Amendment violation is the start of change for a University administration long in the habit of ignoring transparency, sweeping issues under the rug and going after the wrong people for the wrong reasons (for example, scooter guy from two years ago) [“Playing with FIRE: Student’s complaint to Parking Services leads to free speech questions,” The Red & Black, 23 Sept. 2010].
Changing all the provisions that earn yellow and red light provisions is necessary to protect students, faculty and staff on campus from undeserved legal proceedings.
Provisions to be tackled include campus “free speech zones” — where you can exercise your constitutionally-guaranteed rights Monday all the way through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. — and a vaguely-worded harassment policy, both of which have earned yellow light ratings from FIRE.
Obtaining a university education at UGA is more than hitting the books and the bars. It involves life experience — gaining justice, wisdom and moderation.
Students will be fighting for legal rights in one way or another their entire lives no matter what their positions are. They will fight for their right to marry and for rights protecting them from undue government interference.
They shouldn’t have to fight the institution that’s supposed to prepare them for these future battles.
A university shouldn’t be a battleground for First Amendment rights. It should be a hub of free-flowing ideas.
UGA has climbed in more than just the party school rankings the last decade. Academics and student life have improved. The administration is signaling it’s ready to spar with the big boys for top spots in public education.
They can start by recognizing the rights of their own students.
— Lindsey Cook is the multimedia editor of The Red & Black