TRAVERSE CITY — One attendee at last year's Northwestern Michigan College Barbecue showed more interest in gathering signatures for his petition than eating buffalo burgers.
The man stood near the serving line and asked others to sign a petition that protested Gov. Rick Snyder's deal with Canada to build a second bridge over the Detroit River.
"He wasn't the only one," said Vicki Cook, NMC's vice president for finance and administration. "There's a problem with many petitioners at the barbecue because it happens during those big election times. We want them to voice their opinions, but we want to designate a space for those types of activities."
The NMC board this week approved a "Campus Expression" policy to require petitioners and protesters to express themselves in specific areas so as not to block the movement of students and campus visitors, Cook said.
"Right now we haven't picked the spot, but we'll make sure it's in a reasonable location where they are visible," she said.
Cook said similar problems cropped up at some of the events at NMC's Great Lakes Campus.
"Say the governor is coming to the Hagerty Center," she said. "We have had people wanting to, I wouldn't say 'protest,' but stand outside the building and express their opinion."
Stephen Krygier, president of NMC’s student government, said he supports the policy because it protects students and ensures they are safe and secure. He said he doesn't know enough about the policy to offer an opinion on whether the policy will limit students' ability to express themselves.
The new policy states that students shouldn't be blocked from going into buildings or attending class. Students should be able to study and eat in an atmosphere of "appropriate calm."
The policy requires applicants to submit a signed form four days prior to the planned activity, which must take place in a designated "Free Speech area." Those areas will be finalized in about a week, Cook said.
Decisions to grant a permit may be approved with or without conditions and must be issued at least a day before the planned activities.
If a permit is denied, the applicant may request the NMC president to review the application within strict time limits.
NMC's decision to grant a permit cannot consider the content of the planned activity or the applicant's viewpoint. Permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis, subject to time, place, and provisions of the policy.
The policy bans the use of amplification. It also allows NMC to keep individuals or groups with conflicting messages apart from each other.
Allowable materials on NMC's billboards will include student election campaign materials, solicitations for charities and fundraisers, students selling personal items or offering services, such as tutoring, and materials posted for informational purposes.
The policy states that no notice, advertisement, or any other document can be attached to any wall, door, lamppost, tree, or other surface, except as provided in the policy.