Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

April 26, 2013

Editorial: NMC adopts dangerous policy to curb free speech

The names reek of Orwellian double-speak: a “Campus Expression” policy is really about curtailing expression; designated “Free Speech” areas are really about limiting speech.

A policy adopted by Northwestern Michigan College trustees this week is a direct assault on the rights of students and others to speak, petition and debate. It’s got to go.

NMC officials wrapped the “Campus Expression” policy in terms of “protecting” individuals from the horrors of free speech and rights as basic as petitioning and protesting.

Vicki Cook, NMC’s vice president for finance and administration, said the “problem” is that people tried to circulate political petitions during NMC barbecues. Imagine that, circulating public policy petitions on public property at a public event. What’s next, protesting? Well, yes.

“Say the governor is coming to the Hagerty Center,” Cook said. “We have had people wanting to, I wouldn’t say ‘protest,’ but stand outside the building and express their opinion.”

Imagine that. Citizens who want to stand outside a public building on public property to express their opinion to an elected official? Who said they could have an opinion?

Not to worry. The college said it will allow (actually, require) petitioners and protesters to express themselves, but in specific areas so as not to “block the movement of students and campus visitors.” Imagine those poor students and visitors having to actually walk around someone circulating a petition on, say, free speech.

But the college will be nice about it, 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” (a parking lot, perhaps).

For those who still want to petition or protest, there are rules. They’ll have to submit a request four days prior to the planned activity to be allowed to stand in a “Free Speech area;” decisions on whether (or not) to grant a permit may (or may not) be approved with or without conditions and must be issued at least a day before the planned activities.

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