Students both for and against the proposed free expression policy met with administrators March 21 in the University Center ballroom for a forum to discuss chalking, demonstrations, and other free speech avenues on campus.
However, Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Shanley made clear to the about 60 students and faculty who attended the two-hour forum that the basis of the policy change was implemented because past Northern Kentucky University administrations designated a free-speech area in the northwest section of campus near the University Center, which no longer exists because of the student union construction. He also added that the statement in the new policy would allow chalking only to be located on campus walkways and the policy specify it to be 30 feet away from the buildings.
“The restrictions would be minimal if content was objectionable or if it was advertising an event. The administration wouldn’t exercise judgment,” Shanley said.
Shanley told the forum that the issue of chalking could either be fully implemented or eliminated with no set regulations.
“Chalking is our way of educating people,” said Katie Nelson, co-president of Common Ground.
However, some students said the chalk looked bad to visitors who were on campus tours that day. “SGA isn’t trying to take away people’s right to speech,” said Alex Voss, an SGA senator. “We are just trying to eliminate a problem.”
Shanley said the newly proposed policy would be a “the university is a safe place to have a difficult conversation, balance of how the campus defines legitimate free expression and the right of people to get an education,” he said.
Dean of Students Kent Kelso also added that the policy “will never be able to define the free expression perfectly. It comes to terms of a reasonable person standard on what defines a protest or a demonstration. No situation is the same, it comes down to a judgment call.”
Because there are many interpretations of the free expression policy, Student Government Association President Josh Ruth suggested in the forum to change the pre-amble of the document. He said it would address everyone’s issues with the policy
SGA is also creating a committee to look over the policy once a year to address concerns.
“The committee will weigh the checks and balances for students,” said Sheree Davis, SGA’s vice president of administration. “The committee will make sure the policy changes with the university.”
According to Kelso, when it comes to the free expression policy students need to know that there is a difference between a policy and a law.
“A policy is guidelines set for community behaviors, could be potentially disciplined if broken but not for sure” he said. “You will be punished if you break the law.” He also added that discretion would be used when it comes to the enforcement of the policy.
“We want to use good judgment based on the situation,” Kelso said.
At the end of the meeting, the majority of students voted to keep chalking on campus. Though nothing has been changed, Shanley said they would review the policy for the next Board of Regents meeting May 2.
No free expression forums have been set in the future.