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Public university that charged students extra for ‘controversial’ events pays $10,000 to settle suit

Claims plaintiffs never ‘brought their concerns’ before suing

Until recently Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville gave itself stunningly broad leeway to regulate speech on campus, even in its purported free speech zone.

According to a lawsuit against the public university last fall, students had to get advance permission to use that 905-square-foot zone. They had to give 90 days’ notice before hosting any “major” campus event, and get official approval before they could even hand out literature, with no “written criteria” to judge requests.

They even had to pay for “the costs of additional security as determined” by the administration after reviewing the “content and viewpoint” of the proposed event. Those deemed “controversial” could be subject to security fees or denied.

The school decided earlier this month that it was cheaper to change its policies now rather than be forced by a federal judge to do it later.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the College Republicans chapter at SIUE in the lawsuit, said the school agreed to ditch the permit requirement for free speech and open “all outdoor areas” that are generally available to the public for speech purposes.

MORE: Republican students charged extra for ‘controversial’ events

The legal group did not provide a copy of the settlement, only the dismissal. According to KSDK, the university paid the plaintiffs $10,000 in attorneys fees.

SIUE disputed the alliance’s claim that it paid “damages” to settle the suit, telling the TV station “there were none.” It also said students “have not been confined” to the 905-square-foot zone nor “denied any activities or locations.”

It denied requiring students to get a permit “to use any space for free speech” and making them pay security fees: “SIUE has not limited student free speech activities to less than one percent of the SIUE campus and has demonstrated that fact many times.”

The taxpayer-funded institution insisted this was a big understanding that could have been resolved earlier “had they brought their concerns to our attention prior to filing the lawsuit.” It paid attorneys fees to save the university “the much greater cost of protracted federal litigation.”

The alliance did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon on when the plaintiffs “brought their concerns” to the administration.

The lawsuit was filed about a month after police questioned the organizers of a “free speech ball” event on campus, saying the state university was not a “public place” and the ball was “freaking a lot of people out,” according to Campus Reform.

MORE: From threatening arrest over free speech ball to settling suit

Organizers were eventually allowed to continue as long as they kept the ball off the sidewalk, but a university spokesperson claimed they needed to file a “Request For Use Of The Designated Public Forum” form.

The public university is so intent on shielding students from discomfort that it promised free tuition for information about the person(s) behind a racist sticky note.

SIUE maintains a “red light” speech-code rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, last updated in November, for its policies on internet usage, harassment and demonstrations.

Read the alliance statement and KSDK article.

MORE: Free tuition for info on racist sticky note author

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