NKU faculty debate free speech rights

Proposed changes to the outside speaker policy are one step closer to being enacted at Northern Kentucky University, but not everyone thinks the change is a good idea.

The new policy allows Dean of Students Jeff Waple to designate outside speakers to certain areas on campus. The policy states that the restriction will be made based upon time, place and manner. However, some still fear that the policy will allow the potential infringement of free speech laws under the First Amendment.

At a Faculty Senate meeting March 21, Salmon P. Chase College of Law Professor Ken Katkin moved that the Senate oppose the changes to the policy. Senate voted on the motion, with a result of 13-12 in support of the policy.

“I certainly believe in free speech, but even the Supreme Court said it’s best if there is a set of rules to follow,” said mathematics professor Phil McCartney, who voted in favor of the policy.

McCartney was in college during the Vietnam War, and he said that the opposing viewpoints of individuals led to police being called in to counter the threat of violence.

Another argument in favor of the policy was that the University hosts programs for elementary and high school-age children, and things may be said by speakers that may not be appropriate for them to hear. However, this argument does not justify the restriction suggested, according to Katkin.

“If he’s making the judgment where to put someone based on what he thinks they’re going to say, it’s a content-based restriction, and that’s not legal,” Katkin said.

A speaker whose materials are inappropriate for children may be designated to an area where elementary and high school students will not be, according to Waple. The speaker may also be assigned a different time to speak. If the speaker’s message is not perceived to be controversial, they may or may not be designated to a part of campus out of the way of children.

“It’s circumstantial,” Waple said.

History and geography professor John Metz voted in favor of Katkin’s motion, opposing the change in policy.

“The concern is that if they disagree with the message, they can allocate them…where they won’t be effective,” Metz said.

The revised policy would not only give Waple the ability to allocate speakers to given locations, but requires that Waple give permission to any outside speaker wishing to bring their message on campus, according to Katkin.

“We’re not denying anyone the right to come here and exercise free speech,” Waple said. “This is about time and place.”

The change in policy has been vetted by Student Government Association, Staff Congress, and Faculty Senate and is currently awaiting approval by President Votruba’s Executive team.

Story by Roxanna Blevins