BOYER: Rutgers should change U. speech policies

Opinions Column: Legalizing Life


The University is standing in the way of free speech and a free academia. The time to stop this is now. And the Rutgers Administration won’t act unless we do. Fellow Scarlet Knights, this is our moment to be revolutionary.

A recent email from Chancellor Richard L. Edwards states, “at Rutgers, we have a proud tradition of defending free speech and academic freedom — a tradition that every now and then requires renewed support and vigorous safeguarding.” But the issue remains — the University still holds policies contrary to this statement.

Edwards is right, free speech is under attack, particularly by universities. Although Rutgers continues to uphold legally questionable speech codes, the University sent out the email to calm the clamor about speech rights on campus. In light of the Milo Yiannopoulos event and subsequent debate regarding free speech and safe spaces, the emails are a must for the Administration. That is, if you wish to uphold the status quo.

Listen, I get it. Many progressives are upset because they’re being challenged and libertarian students are on the path toward victory in the legal and moral fight for speech rights. A journalist came to campus and his speech sparked aggressive protests from the “tolerant” left. This put Rutgers in the national news and therefore called administrators to action. Touting the line between ultra-progressive students, and the rational and legal demands of the Youth Liberty Movement isn’t an easy task. Today University administrators are in the public spotlight. After all, managing a University system budget of $3.78 billion does require some sort of public relations procedure.

It isn’t the email that us speech rights activists are concerned about, but it's the existing speech policies that are contrary to the email’s talking points. Designated public forum spaces and vague harassment language in Rutgers’ speech policies raise issues.

Last week’s email links to a statement from University President Robert L. Barchi expressing his and Rutgers’ support for speech rights and academic freedom. The Rutgers chapter of Young Americans for Liberty is proud of Barchi and Rutgers for such courageous support. In this age of safe spaces and political correctness, we should be honored that our University President took such a strong stance in favor of the Constitution and the moral and academic right to the free flow of ideas. Nevertheless, actions speak louder than words.

It is time for President Barchi to act on his statement and take leadership in the elimination of Rutgers’ unjust speech policies. If part of Barchi’s legacy will be ushering Rutgers into a new age of its life, surely he would support the revolutionary elimination of arbitrary speech codes and zones. But if that doesn’t happen, it is only a matter of time until the consequences of these speech policies write their own deaths. Indeed the vague nature of Rutgers’ speech policies could most certainly lead to partial enforcement.

If students wish to advocate for refugees, protest tuition hikes or raise charity funds for their fraternity or sorority, they can. But students are limited to do so within the confines of the steps of Brower Commons — the College Avenue speech zone. Oh, and they will need to register first.

Rutgers, a public university operating on public property, is legally unsound in its existing speech codes and zones. The University should willingly change or eliminate their policies. And because this issue affects everyone, it isn’t right or left-leaning. Free speech is for all, and when one loses his or her voice, he or she loses his or her individual power.

The elimination of Rutgers’ immoral and legally unsound speech policies won’t happen by itself, and part of the Rutgers University Student Assembly’s mission is to create a better experience for the student body. A vital portion of an undergraduate’s experience includes being challenged by opposing and new ideas as a portal to the real world. But if that portal is morphed and shrunk into a caricature of the real world, students won’t get the experience they deserve. I encourage members of RUSA to join Young Americans for Liberty in the speech rights movement and help ensure Rutgers is a revolutionary experience for classes to come.

As political and legal pressures have increased, many other universities have changed or eliminated their speech codes and zones. This week the Rutgers chapter of Young Americans for Liberty will begin a public petition campaign in support of free speech and the elimination of the University's current speech policies. Join us in this revolutionary dissent.

Rutgers’ history is rich with student protests, innovation, trail blazers, and a revolutionary spirit. Our legacy and the principles we believe in obligate us as Scarlet Knights to fight for free speech. The University Administration should take a page from the playbook of Rutgers and make history in the present day fight for free speech in American academic leadership. I’m calling on you, President Barchi, RUSA and my fellow Scarlet Knights to help us change the University speech policies.

Matthew Boyer is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science with a minor in German. Boyer is the New Jersey State Chair and Rutgers Chapter President for Young Americans for Liberty. His column, “Legalizing Life,” runs monthly on Tuesdays.


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