Protecting Free Speech vs. Protecting Our Students
Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at 10:51AM
David H.K. Nguyen

Today students on college campuses are protesting on numerous topics happening around the country.  These protest have led to acts of violence on campus, such as the University of Virginia and the University of California Berkeley.  These events challenge college administration to make tough decisions of either protecting free speech or their students. Texas A&M University, for example, has cancelled alt-right speakers on campus to protect the safety of the students, but is this impeding students’ freedom of speech?

In the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment states that everyone has the right to freedom of speech.  During the 1960s, most college campuses were not allowed to have freedom of speech but many still protested about civil rights and war issues, this lead to the Free Speech Movement. In 1968, the Court in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District ruled that students do not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they are on school property.  After this ruling, college campuses began to regulate freedom of speech on campus, for example where can students protest, Bowman v. White, and when to stop a protest, People v. Uptgraft. Having this freedom on campus students were able to express their beliefs and were exposed to different points of views.  Free speech was unconformable but it gave students a chance to learn a diversity of viewpoints.

Today, some claim there are multiple issues caused by freedom of speech.  On campuses, speakers come and sometimes espouse hate.  Students then protest and feel unsafe.  Institutions begin to question balance between students’ First Amendment rights and their rights to an equal education.  This is why some limit free speech on campus.  However, denying speakers may influence the different values that make students feel uncomfortable and serve as a learning opportunity.  A student from Williams College was denied a conservative speaker because the college administrations assumed the speaker would promote hate speech.   If free speech is one of our rights, so why should students have to be limited on what they can say or do on campus? 

Students and administrations will need to balance free speech with student safety and determine safe venues for speaking events. With this hot issue on their minds, college presidents fear what will happen to their campus. How are college campuses going to keep their students safe?

Some schools are preparing their campus police and cancelling class to ensure that safety is maintained on campus.  Other college campuses are trying to be proactive by having students continue to protest but not to interrupt until Q&As.  Some campuses cancel the speakers from coming on campus.

College administrations are stuck in the middle between protecting their students and affording freedom of speech on campus.  While they want their students to feel safe on campus, they also want to afford free speech and diversity of viewpoints on campus.  So what should college campuses worry more about?  Supporting their students to express their freedom of speech or wanting the students to feel safe on campus?

This post was authored by April Vasquez, a masters student in Higher Education Administration at The University of Texas at San Antonio, and a pre-K teacher in the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD). 

Article originally appeared on Highereducationlaw.org (http://www.highereducationlaw.org/).
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