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Civil liberties or disregard: Why UL amended its free speech policy

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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette recently adopted a new free speech policy in response to a state law requiring college campuses to adopt clear free speech policies.

While some are optimistic about the change, others are upset and many are still confused about what the new policy actually changes for UL Lafayette.

UL Lafayette’s new free speech policy says, “It is not the responsibility of the University to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America and Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution of Louisiana, and other applicable laws (‘Free Speech Laws’), including without limitation ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”

Louisiana Senate Bill No. 364 requires all colleges in Louisiana to include this in their policy.

Leigh Jolivette, a member of Gamma Rho Lambda, the multicultural LGBT+ sorority at UL Lafayette, said she doesn’t agree with the wording of this new policy.

“I also think that wording is a little ridiculous, because I believe that maybe it should be the university’s job to protect us,” Jolivette said. “I pay a lot of money to get an education here. I’m expected to pay for my parking; I’m expected to go to my classes and how are you going to say you aren’t going to shield me.”

Other students, such as senior political science major and former President of Young Americans for Liberty Kaleb Moore, are pleased with the new policy.

“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction for the campus in general,” Moore said. “It shows me that the university is committed to the students.”

While one may assume this means UL Lafayette no longer restricts speech on campus, there is an exception for speech that could cause violence.

Dean of Students Margarita Perez, Ed.D., said the primary change the new policy brings to UL Lafayette has to do with public demonstrations.

“So let’s say a group wanted to come on campus and give out pamphlets about abortion,” Perez said. “They would have contacted our office, filled out a form, let us know when they want to come, we would have approved it, and then we would have told them where they could be. Now, they don’t have to let us know they’re coming; they can be anywhere on campus, as long as they’re not interfering with academic classes or something we are having outside (and) they can’t enter buildings.”

Jolivette said although the changes to UL Lafayette’s policy regarding public demonstrations could lead to problems, she ultimately believes the change was a good one.

“I kinda agree with what they’re doing. In a perfect world they could be like, ‘UL is going to not let this happen,’ but if they have very strict rules like that, then those rules can then be used to (say) ‘Okay we’re not going to let any protest happen,’” she said. “So I feel like while a lot of these things aren’t great at least with a more open policy it can be more open for me to retaliate.”

According to a previous article in the Vermilion, a line in the conduct section of UL Lafayette’s Computer and Network Policy which said, “Distasteful or offensive displays, messages and printouts are not permitted,” received student backlash.

Despite the new free speech policy and a resolution passed by SGA in January 2018 to change the words “distasteful or offensive” to “obscene,” the policy has not changed as of June 29, 2019.

According to CampusReform, Young Americans for Liberty member Austin Lancos said students who broke this rule may be expelled for it.

“The main policy that was unconstitutional was that if you say anything ‘distasteful or offensive’ while using UL’s Wi-Fi, you would be suspended or expelled from the university,” Lancos said.

Senior Communications Representative at UL Lafayette Eric Maron said the controversial rule regarding offensive displays is still in the current policy, but added that the rumors saying that breaking the rule would result in expulsion are untrue.

“Contrary to what Austin Lanclos said in the stories I've seen, there is nothing that says that ‘if you say anything distasteful or offensive while using UL's Wi-Fi, you would be suspended or expelled,’” Maron said. “According to the Computer and Network Policy, ‘Penalties may include loss of access, either temporary or permanent, to UL Lafayette computer systems and networks.’ Depending upon the violation (harassment, threatening behaviors, etc), it could be considered a violation of the Student Code of Conduct and that would be referred to the Office of Student Affairs.”

According to the Computer and Network Policy, this is accurate.

According to the New York Times, President Trump signed an executive order on March 21, which linked some federal funding for colleges to how well they enforce “free inquiry” on campuses. While Louisiana Senate Bill No. 364 was passed in June 2018, UL Lafayette announced its change to its free speech policy on June 18, 2019 only 28 days after Trump’s executive order.

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