Committee releases proposed policy about free expression and public spaces

The policy is based in part on the Campus Free Expression Act, which allows for protests and events to take place almost anywhere on campus

Concerned Student 1950 forms a safe space Nov. 9, 2015. Journalists clashed with protesters over the right to access areas near the CS1950 campsite after Tim Wolfe’s resignation was announced.

The Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Protests, Public Spaces, Free Speech and the Press released a draft policy Thursday about free speech at MU, which affirmed MU’s committment to free expression and included specific regulations for scheduling events on campus.

“The primary purpose of this document is to maximize freedom of expression within the context of our academic community while remaining devoted to our four guiding values of respect, responsibility, discovery, and excellence,” the committee said in the preamble of its draft policy.

In an email to faculty, staff and students, interim Chancellor Hank Foley announced the committee’s finished report and praised the committee’s work.

“I’d like to commend the work of the ad hoc committee members and their chair, Professor Bob Jerry,” Foley said in the email. “Since forming in January, the committee has been working to recommend how public spaces could be regulated on campus while protecting safety, free inquiry and free expression.”

The draft policy has a “number of elements,” according to a summary of the report.

According to the summary, the proposed policy adheres to Senate Bill 93, which was passed last August. SB 93, also known as the “Campus Free Expression Act,” allows for protests and speeches to take place in any outdoor area within reasonable time, manner and place, unlike before, when only Speakers Circle was designated as a “free speech zone.”

Additionally, the committee was tasked with recommending ways to diffuse future conflicts over free expression. According to the report’s summary, the committee believes that the best way to “both avoid and diffuse future conflicts” is to have a clear policy in place.

But, the committee also said in the summary, “we also observe that no single policy can anticipate and answer all questions about the full range of possible future disputes about the use of a public space.”

The committee recommends using the Campus Mediation Service to mediate disagreements over freedom of expression. Some of the mediators should be specifically trained on first amendment rights, according to the summary. Additionally, the committee wrote in its summary, further steps should be taken to make sure freedom of expression is understood by all MU administrators, faculty, staff and students.

The full proposed policy includes standards for assembling and information about which outdoor areas must be reserved ahead of time to use and which are not permitted to be used for spontaneous activities. There are seven spaces which may not be used for spontaneous events and 11 spaces that may not be used at any time for events, scheduled or not.

The 13-member committee, composed of administrators, faculty and students and assisted by counsel and a research assistant, first published a report in March. That report recommended the approval of a statement reaffirming MU’s commitment to free expression, which was endorsed by Foley and Faculty Council.

In composing the draft policy, the committee said it assessed MU’s current policies, reviewed the current free expression policies of 40 universities, consulted with multiple free speech experts and had discussions within the committee.

Foley said in his email that he, along with Faculty Council, will seek input from the MU community about the draft policy. He said the draft policy will be compared to MU’s current rules and regulations in order to pass a new policy.

“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 in the email.

Edited by George Roberson | groberson@themaneater.com

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