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Volume 68, Issue 141, Friday, April 25, 2003


Staff Editorial


Matthew Dulin    Geronimo Rodriguez      Cara Sarelli          Lisa Street

Free speech rules

A non-profit educational foundation is waging a lawsuit against Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania alleging the universityis code of conduct violates studentsi rights to free speech.

Sounds awfully familiar.

As UH is coming to grips with a new freedom of expression policy it hopes will appease the courts, it seems like more universities are finding their conduct policies under fire.

The current policy at Shippensburg University stipulates that each student has the "primary" right to be free from harassment, intimidation, physical harm or emotional abuse.

That sounds good enough, but listen to the next part.

The policy prohibits speech or conduct that "annoys, threatens or alarms a person or group." This is defined by many examples, according to a New York Times report: sexual harassment, innuendo, comments, insults, propositions, jokes about sex or gender-specific traits, leering, whistling and obscene gestures.

Now that is obscene. While we think everyone should be polite and congenial when expressing themselves, universities donit need to make rules for adults to behave this way. Freedom is the value we Americans supposedly hold so dear.

Freedom means having the ability to express yourself in certain ways -- even in ways that are offensive. If weire going to be establishing these rules for our places of education, why even stop there? Whatis the worth of these American values if we canit celebrate them at our places of learning and cultivation?

We arenit condoning sexual harassment or threatening speech. Weire condoning expressive activities. There are certainly ways of separating the two. 

But levying such heavy-handed regulations on speech comes off as an act of fear -- a fear of freedom in action. No one said free speech would make everything clean, pretty and agreeable. It would just make things better in the long run.

UH, Shippensburg and all universities, need to refocus their policies to align with their true purpose: to provide a well-rounded, real-world education. And in real-world America, free speech isnit strapped down by heavy rules. In America, free speech rules.

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