Letter to the editor: Student Involvement didn’t get the memo on free speech

By Brian Schraum

I applaud WSU officials for their efforts to update the university’s antiquated speech codes (WSU working to update free speech policies, March 2). Requiring two weeks’ notice for protests or other protected First Amendment activity is both impractical and unconstitutional.

It seems the Office of Student Involvement, however, didn’t get the memo.

Rather than working around these “archaic” restrictions on speech, Student Involvement has doubled down on them. In a policy change announced just last month, all Registered Student Organizations are now required to have their events approved at least two weeks in advance. That includes activities as basic as informational tabling or showing a film. Some “high risk” events require even longer notice. Even a simple group meeting has to be approved at least a week in advance, according to the Student Involvement website.

The policy is crystal clear: Events held without the required notice will not be approved. Officials recently added a small footnote on the website that requests for “protests, rallies and other expressions of free speech” will be expedited, but the language is ambiguous at best. These “events” apparently still require the university’s stamp of approval.

No court would accept shutting down a student protest because the protestors didn’t give, say, University Catering enough time to review it. As WSU Police Chief Bill Gardner correctly points out, students need to be able to act immediately. These are bureaucratic hurdles that outside groups or lone protestors would not have to jump over.

If WSU is committed to fostering an environment that values the free exchange of ideas, we need to ensure not only that the policy is strong but that it is enforced equitably across campus.