The University says it supports the free exchange of ideas. It says it wants students to be exposed to diverse viewpoints. But the College of Literature, Science and the Arts is another story. The LSA Facilities and Operations Office recently revealed plans to restrict when, where and how student organizations and publications distribute their materials. Shamelessly disguised as a harmless effort to reduce litter and promote safety, this policy would really be an act of unconstitutional suppression of free speech, compromising the autonomy of student publications and offering another example of the University’s bad habit of disregarding students.
The product of two years of planning, the proposed policy would place unwarranted limitations on the content and distribution of student pamphlets, fliers and publications. To circulate publications in an LSA building, on racks with limited spaces, student groups would have to be overseen by the Board for Student Publications or registered with by the Michigan Student Assembly. Even with this initial restriction, material must meet a laundry list of requirements like complying with the University’s advertising and content policies. In addition, student organizations would only be allowed to distribute materials from Sept. 15 to Apr. 14, forbidding the circulation of publications like the Daily in LSA buildings during the spring and summer semesters and pushing the first fall semester publication date back two weeks.
The LSA Facilities and Operations Office contends that these extensive restrictions are necessary to cut down on litter, thus lowering the probability of slipping on loose papers in its buildings. It argues that the overproduction of student fliers and publications is to blame for this safety hazard. But rather than addressing the problem with logical solutions like increased janitorial efforts, looking for solutions along with the student groups supposedly to blame or installing more recycling bins, LSA is seeking to cut off the source of the litter – and the student body’s constitutional right to free speech and a free press.
A few papers scattered across Angell Hall aren’t reason enough to curtail rights that have taken decades to solidify, even here at the University where students have historically fought with the administration to guarantee their editorial control. A little mess is a small price to pay for our right to free speech.
The hollow justification LSA administrators are offering for this intrusion into students’ freedom is that LSA buildings aren’t “public” because they aren’t open to the public around the clock. Therefore, the University’s commitment to free speech and the U.S. Constitution are able to be trampled on. But obviously, LSA administrators don’t often visit their own buildings after 5 p.m. If they did, they would know that they are popular common areas at all hours of the day and night – exactly what is required to be considered “public.”
The proposed policy is anything but content-neutral, as the administration claims. By restricting the number of slots on display racks and giving an immense amount of regulatory power to MSA and the Board for Student Publications, LSA’s policy is severely restrictive for papers outside the mainstream or without established audiences.
Of course, the LSA policy won’t stop at directly regulating the content in student papers. The LSA prohibition of alcohol and drug-related content would apply to advertisements in student publications, which could prove detrimental to some papers’ revenue. Because publications like the Daily are financially dependent on advertising, restrictions on advertising might as well be restrictions on content. It is also unclear how the policy would affect materials that are not produced by students like the Metro Times and the Ann Arbor News. These publications, which offer students valuable information about local events, could potentially be kept of the racks.
Most importantly, this policy would hurt students. Ousted from their prime real estate in LSA buildings, student publications would likely have to discontinue circulating during the spring and summer semesters. LSA administrators must have forgotten that news doesn’t stop for the summer. Consider this last summer when the University raised tuition, got the final green light to desecrate Michigan Stadium with skyboxes and signed a multimillion-dollar apparel contract with Adidas. The University shouldn’t get a free pass to act without the oversight these publications provide.
Sure, the LSA policy is supposedly still in drafting stages. But LSA administrators can’t take back the two years they considered these proposed restrictions without ever having the common sense to ask for input from the major student groups that will be affected by the policy. It is appalling that the only way this university’s two main student publications, the Michigan Review and the Daily, were able to find out about this policy was when they reported on it. Unfortunately, it’s emblematic of how the University does business now.
In an effort to be environmental friendly, the LSA Facilities and Operations Office should do itself one favor: Toss this policy into a recycling bin. But don’t leave it on the ground because someone might trip.