The Tri­bune got it wrong: Cal Poly em­braces free speech, re­gard­less of con­tent

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY KEITH HUMPHREY Keith Humphrey is vice pres­i­dent of stu­dent af­fairs at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

I was dis­ap­pointed to read The Tri­bune’s re­cent ar­ti­cle and ed­i­to­rial re­gard­ing pro­test­ers at Cal Poly’s ca­reer fair last Oc­to­ber.

Un­for­tu­nately, The Tri­bune failed to ac­cu­rately re­port the facts sur­round­ing the in­ci­dent and, as a re­sult, mis­char­ac­ter­ized the sit­u­a­tion and mis­led its read­ers.

The Tri­bune’s ed­i­to­rial sup­ports protest ac­tions that could be vi­o­la­tions of uni­ver­sity pol­icy and could take away po­ten­tial em­ploy­ment op­tions from tal­ented Cal Poly stu­dents. Pro­mot­ing such be­hav­ior could un­in­ten­tion­ally send a sig­nal that Cal Poly is not a good place to re­cruit stu­dents — and noth­ing could be fur­ther from re­al­ity.

Cal Poly’s Ca­reer Ser­vices, which co­or­di­nates the ca­reer fairs, cre­ates pro­grams and ser­vices that help stu­dents de­velop ca­reer-re­lated skills to be suc­cess­ful in life. It aids all Cal Poly stu­dents in the pur­suit of their ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions, cul­ti­vates a di­verse group of em­ploy­ers to as­sist in de­vel­op­ing the em­ploy­ees of the fu­ture and pro­vides guid­ance for the ca­reer ser­vices staff who work daily with stu­dents.

At Cal Poly, we em­brace free speech and sup­port in­di­vid­u­als who want to ex­press their opin­ions on any is­sue. How­ever, ed­u­ca­tional events such as the ca­reer fair must main­tain an en­vi­ron­ment that al­lows the em­ploy­ers from all in­dus­tries to re­cruit stu­dents without dis­rup­tion from oth­ers.

The Tri­bune sug­gests the uni­ver­sity en­forces its free speech poli­cies dif­fer­ently, de­pend­ing upon what pro­test­ers are say­ing. That is not ac­cu­rate.

The uni­ver­sity’s poli­cies fo­cus on when and how pro­test­ers ex­press their opin­ions and whether or not that ex­pres­sion in turn re­stricts the rights of other cam­pus com­mu­nity mem­bers — for ex­am­ple, stu­dents who are at­tend­ing a ca­reer fair in or­der to con­nect with em­ploy­ers.

On this sub­ject, the First Amend­ment is clear: Uni­ver­si­ties have the au­thor­ity to cre­ate reg­u­la­tions that pro­vide the time, place and man­ner for free speech ac­tiv­i­ties and to im­ple­ment re­stric­tions so that protests do not dis­rupt the ed­u­ca­tion­ally pur­pose­ful ac­tiv­i­ties of the uni­ver­sity.

Cal Poly has such poli­cies and is well within its au­thor­ity to en­force them when pro­test­ers’ ac­tions im­pinge on the rights of other cam­pus com­mu­nity mem­bers. More im­por- tantly, these poli­cies are con­tent-neu­tral. Re­gard­less of their mes­sage, pro­tes­tors are not al­lowed to dis­rupt an event.

They are guar­an­teed the right to protest — typ­i­cally out­side a venue, where their voices can be heard but the ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­ity or event is not dis­rupted. The uni­ver­sity is also well within its au­thor­ity to meet with and com­mu­ni­cate with stu­dents who may have vi­o­lated these poli­cies, in or­der to dis­cuss ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior and hold stu­dents ac­count­able.

This is of­ten done with the pur­pose of ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents who may have tech­ni­cally vi­o­lated poli­cies but were un­aware that they did so. Our fo­cus is on stu­dent ed­u­ca­tion and pre­ven­tion of pol­icy vi­o­la­tions so we can avoid sanc­tions. When the uni­ver­sity meets with a stu­dent as part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion process, whether or not that stu­dent is be­ing held ac­count­able, the uni­ver­sity al­ways uses the op­por­tu­nity to clar­ify its poli­cies and ex­plain how a spe­cific be­hav­ior im­pacts the com­mu­nity, so that all par­ties are on the same page.

Cal Poly sup­ports the rights of stu­dents to protest — as it did last spring when stu­dents chose to protest against racially in­sen­si­tive in­ci­dents on cam­pus. Sim­i­larly, the uni­ver­sity would sup­port those who choose to protest the ca­reer fairs, pro­vided those stu­dents are in com­pli­ance with the uni­ver­sity’s time, place and man­ner pol­icy and do not in­fringe upon the rights of other stu­dents and com­pa­nies par­tic­i­pat­ing in the ca­reer fair event.

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