By Kyeland Jackson–
Reginald Meeks, a Democrat representing Jefferson County in the Kentucky legislature, has filed a bill to protect student free speech. The bill would prohibit any university from restricting student free speech, which Meeks said has been recently threatened nationally.
“Freedom of speech is a core value in Kentucky,” Meeks said. “The bill is an attempt to protect student free speech, and free speech of faculty members.”
House Bill 145 follows the media firestorm at University of Missouri last fall. Students at Mizzou had reported racial profiling and hate crimes but received no substantial action from the university. The struggle gained national attention when the football team joined the cause. The team threatened to not play until school officials acted on the claims of the profiled students. Within days, university president Tim Wolfe stepped down.
During the final week of protests, a new problem emerged when a communication professor demanded a student journalist leave the protest area set up by students on university grounds. In a viral YouTube video, Melissa Click asked for “muscle” to remove the photojournalist forcefully. Protesters were then led in a chant by Click to jeer and tell the journalist to go.
Also last fall, Yale University was embroiled in the free speech fight. Professor Erika Christakis sent an email questioning the university’s policy of advising students on Halloween dress. The email questioned limitations set on students’ right to free speech through their costumes.
“I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do,” Christakis said in her email.
“But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.”
Students quickly rejected her email through public outcry and demanded she resign.
The University of Louisville had free speech controversy when President James Ramsey was photographed wearing a sombrero and stereotypical Mexican clothing for Halloween. A Cardinal editorial sparked national attention as both students and faculty demanded an apology from Ramsey and his staff. More than 50 protesters marched to Grawemeyer Hall to demand a meeting with Ramsey, which they got.
Some took to social media and questioned the harm in the president’s costume. He has since apologized and begun cultural sensitivity training along with his staff.
Meek’s says his act will encourage free speech and states:
Public postsecondary education institutions shall not impose restrictions on the time, place, and manner of student speech that:
(1) Occurs in areas of the institution’s campus; and
(2) Is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution unless the restrictions:
(a) Are reasonable;
(b) Are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech;
(c) Are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest; and
(d) Leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.