Editorial: UI must revisit speech policies


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The freedom of speech and expression is a concept open to a cloud of misconception, interpretation, and limitations. It is undeniably a fundamental part of any form of democracy. And the University of Iowa is apparently one of the worst constrictors of it in the United States.

The nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education monitors more than 700 colleges and universities across the nation. Recently, it published its “10 worst of abusers of student and faculty free-speech rights” list, and the UI was in the bottom 10 as part of the worst of the worst list. It sounds like a Buzzfeed article, but the Philadelphia -based organization has some weight; its list is based on empirical fact.

One in six college campuses have “free speech zones.” For some, this makes perfect sense.

Designated areas can be reserved by organizations wishing to spread their message. The free-speech zones aren’t in the middle of nowhere, either. Students often have to confront picketers, preachers, and the like on their way to class.

In that regard, free-speech zones make sense. Students may feel harassed or be harassed, if no such free-speech system was in place. Anyone could shout almost anything at them anywhere. Before campus police arrive, anyway.

Despite some positives, free-speech zones are often criticized as a concept, especially in an academic setting, in which ideas should be exchanged freely and openly. The notion of free-speech zones can also be dangerous, because they put into place a system that can be abused by administrators or students.

Should administrators not like an expression of speech, they wouldn’t have to sign off on allowing that message to be heard. The same can be said for students, who could threaten the administration with charges of any prejudice should they not like what is on display.

Regardless, the “zone policy” took hits in the rights foundation’s ranking system. The other contributor to the UI’s new status is an event nearly every one on campus is aware of.

The statue of a Klansman made from newspapers covering racial tension was unsurprisingly divisive. Its prominent placement in front of the Pentacrest didn’t help matters. The UI’s response, taking down the statue, has been seen by many as an infringement on its creator’s freedom of speech.

A life-size symbol of hatred and aggression would understandably make some students uncomfortable. Whether you believe a group of students affected by such imagery should have the ability to sway administrators to take it down is telling of where you fall in this debate.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that the freedom of speech is not something that UI administration should have total power over.

Before Facebook, the web, and even newspapers, taking to the streets in protest or celebration was how you spread the word. There is a profound power in the act of expressing one’s opinion, and so long as it does not conflict with the First Amendment’s definition of free speech, UI administrators should not restrict it.

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