Editorial: Free Speech Must Prevail
Texas A&M University-San Antonio administrators are currently in the process of finalizing the first policy governing the exercise of free speech on campus.
This comes as 33 percent of campuses nationwide have enacted policies suppressing speech, according to a recent survey of 450 universities and colleges administered by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The University of Ohio and Clemson University both recently implemented guidelines prohibiting protests, rallies and open discourse on campus property. The policy was an attempt to curb violence on campus, following the events at UC Berkeley and The University of Virginia.
We, The Mesquite Editorial Board, unreservedly condemn these policy changes at Ohio and Clemson.
According to JoAnna Benavides-Franke, Dean of Students at A&M-San Antonio, until the new policy is finalized, students are subject to the Texas A&M University System Policy governing free speech – which is enforced by the University Police Department.
University Police Department Chief Ronald Davidson declined to respond to requests for comment and his department have yet to release an official statement on the procedures of enforcement here at A&M-San Antonio.
The revised system policy currently governing free speech, Appendix XI: Texas A&M Rules on Freedom of Expression, outlines the time, place, manner restrictions concerning acts of expression and dissent that apply to A&M-San Antonio.
Under the current system policy, students are encouraged to participate in the free exchange of ideas. The system policy expresses to the A&M member campuses that each carries the responsibility to ensure the protection of student rights to free speech, petition, and peaceful assembly as set forth in the United States Constitution.
We believe students rights to peacefully assemble, speak and/or protest should be protected whether one agrees with their view or not.
When San Diego University president Elliot Hirschman told the Huffington Post that, “free speech is unrelated to civility and politeness,” the editorial board began debating this subject extensively.
The Mesquite newsroom is an example of diversity, and likewise so too are our opinions. While the editorial board failed to reach a consensus on a variety of subjects, we reached agreement on the following:
- We believe the courage of a free society rests with the defending, with equal fervor, the popular opinion with that of the unpopular and potentially offensive.
- We believe it is important that administrators support the free exercise of speech, petition, demonstration and protest, in its entirety, even when student, faculty and staff views expressed do not reflect those of the university at large.
- We believe, support and encourage our administrators, staff, faculty and student body to speak up against divisiveness and hate – so long as it is contributing to the debate and not serving as simply a “heckler’s veto.”
Many readers will argue that these positions contribute to the spreading of “hate speech,” and are counterintuitive and dangerous to student safety.
We empathize with this view, but disagree.
The best defense against hate comes not from censoring it, but from the inoculation of free discourse. Like any other muscle, the mind must be regularly exercised to fully develop and grow strong enough to challenge the ideologies of hate.
Together, regardless of our differences of opinion, we should adamantly defend the First Amendment against any incursion – even those which owe their reasoning to student safety. Simply put, Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
The importance of the First Amendment, on-campus, rests with its ability to compel public discourse; discourse which we strongly encourage A&M-San Antonio to engage in, with all stakeholders before enacting any policy which may be viewed as infringing upon those rights.
Written by: Opinions Editor, James Miller
Signed: The Mesquite News Editorial Board