Senate reviews free expression policy for NKU

As students wrapped up final exams and prepared for the holiday Dec. 15, the Faculty Senate met to discuss important campus issues, including the Free Expression Policy Draft.

Dr. Mark Shanley, vice president of Student Affairs, addressed the need for a new free speech policy by introducing a preliminary draft for faculty senate review, according to Rita Thomas, faculty senate secretary. The draft will be considered and discussed at the March Board of Regents meeting.

“The draft really opens up the campus (for free speech),” said Gail Wells, vice president of Academic Affairs and provost.

The new draft resulted from a review of the current policy conducted by Student Affairs and Legal Affairs last spring. According to the administrative policy recommendations, the review found the current policy has not been updated for 17 years.

Additionally, the current policy was found to “not represent the latest court rulings and practices addressing free expression on college campuses.” An overview of the new policy states this proposed draft is not a complete rewrite of the old policy, but an updated version that clarifies ambiguities and addresses changes on campus.

Primary changes include designating the campus as a limited public forum, emphasizing content neutral practices, clarifying posting and handbill practices, creating a temporary display policy, and eliminating the practice of chalking.

Faculty Senator Steven Gores pointed out during the meeting that some of the proposed improvements were still rather limiting.

The new policy states students may have outdoor demonstrations, but only if they do not interfere with pedestrian or vehicular traffic, alter the appearance of the area, or have a high noise volume. The policy also requires groups of more than 50 individuals to reserve an outdoor area for its demonstration.

Designating a specific place for a protest defeats the purpose of having a demonstration, Gores said. He said blocking out an area such as the baseball field keeps the protesters on the outskirts of campus where it is unlikely they will be able to get their message across.

The draft also states that any group wanting to march on campus must meet with the dean of students and the director of public safety 24 hours prior to the march to determine an appropriate route that will not interfere with, impede or otherwise disrupt the normal functions and processes of the university.

Wells reassured the Faculty Senate that the draft makes the entire campus more accessible, because as of now “the campus only has a free speech zone.” The Faculty Senate, Student Senate and Staff Congress will review the draft and prepare final policy recommendations for the Board of Regents by the end of February.