‘Unbridled discretion’ to reject or censor student viewpoints
There may be no more euphemistic phrase in higher education than “free speech zone,” yet public colleges seem determined to protect them until every last judge in America has struck them down as unconstitutional.
This restrictive policy at Arkansas State University seems destined for the ash heap after the public university was sued by its Turning Point USA chapter and founding member Ashlyn Hoggard.
The lawsuit, brought on the conservative student group’s behalf by the Alliance Defending Freedom, targets ASU’s policy for severely restricting “expressive activity” on campus; requiring prior permission from administrators before even using those zones; and giving administrators “unbridled discretion” to restrict content and viewpoint.
About one percent of campus is available for student expression, but they must get permission from Martha Spack, director of student development and leadership. The speech zones are available for use between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Anywhere else on campus, students must get permission 72 hours in advance from Spack, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs William Stripling or his designee, according to the suit. The policy “outlines different areas for speech and literature” – in some places, students can hand out literature but not verbally engage passers-by.
The suit says Hoggard and “another individual” set up a table at the edge of a student union building hallway Oct. 11. They told passing students about “their First Amendment rights” and asked them to support the club’s pursuit of official university recognition.
An administrator and campus police officer told them they were violating the “Freedom of Expression Policy” and couldn’t talk to students outside the designated speech zones. They would told they would be punished and potentially arrested if they didn’t stop immediately, according to the suit.
TPUSA staffer Emily Parry identified herself as Hoggard’s companion in a Facebook post, claiming she had been “banned” from campus. She described a Kafkaesque process of trying to get permission to table:
We asked the student life office if we could get a table and they said no because we are not an official club yet.
The College Republicans tried to reserve a space for us.
They said no, we need to know further in advance.
We were told by student life that we could only table outside and if we brought our own table, so I bought one. …
Arkansas State has a free speech zone, that you have to reserve space in advance to table in, AND you have to be a recognized student group to do that. How are we supposed to find the necessary number of members to become a club if we can’t table to recruit?
According to TPUSA’s account, Parry challenged an official who told the duo they needed permission to table on taxpayer-funded public property. That person then called campus police, and an officer was “aggressive and confrontational” toward Parry, issuing her a “persona non grata” citation.
The organization claims Parry recorded video of the encounters, and Parry herself two months ago promised “video to come,” but she has not posted video on her own Facebook page, and TPUSA does not appear to have posted it on its YouTube channel.
Students who speak without permission from administrators risk sanctions “ranging from a written warning to suspension to even expulsion from ASU,” according to the suit, which challenges both the ASU System policy and its flagship Jonesboro campus policy.
The lawsuit names as defendants the board of trustees, President Charles Welch, Chancellor Kelly Damphousse, Stripling and Spack. All are named in their official and individual capacities. The events coordinator for the student union building, Elizabeth Rouse, is not named as a defendant, despite her alleged role with a police officer of telling Hoggard and Parry to leave.