High School College Prep Course
W6 Discussion: Free Speech and Hate Speech Discussion
State University has a residential campus, with about 80% of the university’s 20,000 students living on campus or in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus. The campus includes various open areas, including outdoor recreation areas: a main quadrangle (a large, grassy area with trees and sidewalks), plazas in front of various buildings, including the main library and the student union, and numerous walkways.
In the past, students posted notices of student activities on lampposts, trees, doors, windows and interior and exterior walls of buildings in these open areas. To reduce the litter and clutter that resulted from such postings, the university’s administration had information “kiosks” installed on the plazas in front of the library, the student union, and in the plazas of various other buildings. Students were directed to post their informational posters and fliers on the kiosks rather than on trees, lampposts, walls, or other outdoor places. The information kiosks are box shaped, approximately 7 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet in depth, covered by a simple roof with an overhang that protects notices from the elements. The upper portion of the outer surfaces is covered with a synthetic cork material that holds both tacks and staples, providing a 4 foot by 4 foot “posting” area on each of the kiosk’s four sides.
The Director of Student Activities manages the information kiosks. With a “self-service” system in place, any student or student organization may place a poster or notice on a kiosk on a first-come, first-served basis, and is also responsible for removing it. The Director enforces two rules:
• Each notice must display the date on which it was posted, and must be removed within two weeks.
• No notice may be posted on top of another student’s posting, or removed by another student to make room for his or her own.
Customarily, the kiosks have been used to post notices of student organization meetings and events. In the past couple of years, however, students have increasingly used the kiosks to post controversial and polarizing statements. Examples include notices which glorify the use of illegal drugs, condemn homosexuality, and criticize Muslims for adhering to a “terrorist” religion. Many such notices have been written in crude language with racial or sexual slurs, or have used offensive drawings to depict racial or religious stereotypes or sexual innuendos.
Notices stridently critical of individual university administrators have proliferated. There have been notices, for example, that criticize the Dean of Admissions for using racial preferences in admission policies, the Vice-President of Student Life for recognizing a student Christian organization that refuses to admit “practicing homosexuals,” and several others that charge named faculty members with coercing students to have sex with them. Most of the controversial notices have been posted anonymously.
Additionally, during the past couple of years many of the notices are being made poster-sized, increasingly garish; they often protrude beyond the 4 foot by 4 foot posting areas of the kiosk. The overall effect is that the kiosks are in very poor taste, both from a distance and when perused; the university administrators think campus visitors might find them offensive.
The Director of Student Activities and the Vice President of Student Life are concerned about all the changes in the types of posters and notices being placed on the information kiosks. They have asked to meet with the University Counsel to discuss whether, under the First Amendment, they may promulgate additional rules regarding kiosk postings to alleviate the problems that have arisen.
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