FIRE has been putting the heat on Sinclair Community College (Ohio) after it punished a student for distributing pro-life literature after class. According to FIRE's report, a paralegal student distributed literature linking abortion and breast cancer to her fellow students after her Probate Law I class in October 2010. (October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.) She gave some flyers to students directly and placed other flyers on the desks of students who had left their seats.
A couple weeks later, Sinclair's Paralegal Program Chair met with the student about the flyers. (Here's where the story follows the usual university plot line.) The Program Chair told the student that another student complained that the flyers were...drum roll please: "offensive." (Where have we heard that before?) Then the Program Chair told the student she could not distribute any literature in class.
And he's right, at least according to Sinclair policy. The Student Code of Conduct bans the distribution of literature anywhere on Sinclair's campus, except for registered student organizations that "register with the appropriate college official" (The policy doesn't tell us who that is). So FIRE wrote to Sinclair and informed it of the many ways it was violating this student's constitutional rights. How did Sinclair respond? By following the plot line, of course.
Sinclair claims it has another policy that allows for some literature distribution, but just not in classrooms, hallways, and a few other campus locations. Even if a student distributes flyers after class, when no disruption of the academic environment is possible, Sinclair prohibits it. What's more, Sinclair has not repudiated its Student Code policy that bans literature distribution everywhere on campus. Which is convenient, if you're trying to avoid the public spotlight, but also retain a complete lock-down on a protected form of speech.
So what is it, Sinclair? Do you allow literature distribution? Or don't you? From what I can tell, your policies of convenience allow you to make that decision based on who's speaking. I hope FIRE turns up the heat and you restore freedom of speech on campus.
Know your rights on campus. Go to www.speakupmovement.org/university