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Modern miracle: Public university changes unconstitutional policies rather than get sued

Another ‘free speech ball’ freakout

We highlight a lot of poor decisions by universities at The College Fix, so I’m going to praise an intelligent decision by one.

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls revised speech codes that imposed prior restraint on student expression and even made them pay to reserve a spot in a so-called speech zone, after getting a warning letter from the Alliance Defending Freedom earlier this year.

The alliance said Wednesday that the revisions appear in the Student Handbook, Student Organization Handbook and Facilities Use Policy. Students are now allowed to “assemble and engage in spontaneous expressive activity” without having to pay a reservation fee or joining an officially recognized student organization.

Rather than waste taxpayer money (or jack up its insurance premiums) on a lawsuit it was sure to lose, the public university skipped past the game of legal chicken that stubborn college bureaucrats love to play and just made sensible policy changes.

Sofie Salmon was rolling a so-called free beach ball across campus to recruit for a Turning Point USA chapter last fall when a UW-River Falls bureaucrat, Kristin Barstad (below), threatened to call the cops on her if she didn’t halt the recruiting. (Administrators seem bizarrely intolerant of beach balls with writing on them.)

An alliance lawyer told The Fix when it warned the university that Salmon spent several months simply seeking answers from the university on its actual policies. The warning letter from the alliance was apparently what it took for UW-River Falls to respect student speech.

“Sofie shouldn’t have had to go through the experience of being threatened with having the police called on her, but we’re pleased the university has done the right thing now by eliminating the unconstitutional policies and publishing new ones that protect students’ rights,” said Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for the alliance.

It’s a shame that in 2020, the most praiseworthy university is the one that relents from punishing a student for her free speech nearly a year later, after receiving a legal threat letter from a high-profile public interest law firm.

MORE: UW-River Falls bans student from rolling ‘free speech ball’ on campus

IMAGE: mangostock/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.