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Posted on: February 13th, 2011 2 Comments

Editorial: MSC given red light on free speech

Mesa State has the potential to commit serious violations of its students’ free speech rights. Potentially “offensive” posters can’t be hung on windows on campus. This includes political posters. If a student loves Obama, under the first amendment, they should be able to express that. Even on more hot-button issues, if a student wants to hang a pro-life poster, they are well within their first amendment rights to do so. The school is squelching students’ freedom of expression by not allowing it.
The Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) states: “The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity.”
The non-profit educational foundation rates schools on a stop-light scale, green being a free-speech friendly school, yellow being small violations and red for large violations.
Mesa State was labeled as a red light school, and rightly so. Among its many violations of students’ first amendment rights, a few are especially alarming. Under the current rules in the student housing handbook, anything said can be twisted and bent into harassment as the administration sees fit. The rule reads: “Harassment can be construed from any intimidating behavior to individuals feeling uncomfortable with behavior of others. Any harassment that is harmful to other individuals is prohibited on campus.”
The problem with a broad and over-reaching harassment rule is that it often is selectively enforced. The institution has the potential to take anything it doesn’t like and chalk up the offense to harassment.
Offensive speech and behavior doesn’t always portray the college in the best light, but offensive speech and behavior is still protected under the first amendment and the college is failing as an institution if it doesn’t do everything in its power to protect  student rights.
Mesa State has also made it incredibly hard for the newspaper to reach its goals of being a campus watchdog and covering controversial news. Recently, all interviews for any news story that might negatively impact the college have been funneled to Dana Nunn.
We were going to cover the bed bug outbreak in Pinon Hall. The obvious and knowledgeable people to talk to would be in the Housing Department. Housing was forbidden to talk to the media about the outbreak and all interviews were funneled through Dana Nunn. All attempted interviews regarding Maverick Center employees padding their hours have been directed to Dana Nunn.
Those that seem to be hiding something look guilty, and the Mesa State administration should be doing everything in its power to create an open, honest, and free speech friendly environment. Let’s strive for green light status and a campus that doesn’t infringe on students’ rights.


2 Responses

  1. John Linko says:

    Good editorial – I’ve e-mailed a link to FIRE. They typically include references to their rating system on their blog, The Torch.

    Still, ya gotta wonder. Dana Nunn has a job to do, and it’s a legitimate job in today’s reputation-sensitive, message-management world. I’m wondering what there is about the fact that she is the point person for media inquiries that would prevent the Crite from reporting on something.

    Reports of bedbugs in a dormitory, with staff being told not to comment to media, certainly seems like enough for a story. Even if the report is reduced to the lead, whatever supporting facts you have, a statement from Ms. Nunn, and the report of the gag order, the students will be informed, and will likely wonder what administration indeed has to hide. You’ve done your job.

    You’re on the right track. Keep going – you’ll get there.

  2. John Linko says:

    Upon additional thought –

    If the Criterion staff is bent on being a “campus watchdog”, they need to rely more on what they are hopefully learning in journalism school. This includes using multiple sources (sometimes off-the-record) and tools such as vigorous research and public records requests. In the case of the bedbugs in the dorms, I would be attempting contact with those students affected by the outbreak, and making requests under the Colorado Open Records Act for invoices related to any expenses for professional pest control services at the dorm in question.

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