Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mizzou's Proposed Free Speech Policy Is Constitutional but Confusing

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mizzou's Proposed Free Speech Policy Is Constitutional but Confusing

Article excerpt

"Less is more," as my 10th grade teacher used to say. It's advice the University of Missouri should take as it solicits feedback this month on a newly revised free speech policy.

The nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I work, rates university policies that regulate speech. We would give Mizzou's draft policy a "green light" rating our highest because students generally are allowed to speak their minds on campus. Mizzou deserves kudos for paying attention to student speech rights.

But we have our concerns. Our worry is that the policy as a whole will end up chilling speech because of its sheer complexity. The proposed free speech policy spans 30 pages. While attorneys may find this length perfectly reasonable, students shouldn't have to wade through a tome to express themselves. After all, the law of the land governing free expression the First Amendment is only 45 words long.

At the very least, the university's detailed policy could be made more accessible to students by including frequently asked questions or an executive summary. But it's one thing to critique a policy and quite another to write one. To do our part, FIRE has created an edited, streamlined draft of the policy to make it easier to understand. Check it out on our website. And if you like our version more, encourage Mizzou to adopt it.

Our edits took aim at three main sources of lawyerly verbiage.

First, we cut unnecessary provisions. Students don't need repeated warnings against destroying property, causing injury, creating safety hazards or engaging in other unlawful action. They should presumably know better and if they don't, other university regulations already prohibit such behavior.

Second, we dialed down the excessive detail. Trying to anticipate every contingency ends up creating more confusion. The draft policy contains prohibitions banning "flashing signs" and forbidding "demonstrations, protests, rallies, vigils, or assemblies." What about sit-ins, conferences and get-togethers? Again: Less is more, and a little common sense can go a long way. …

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