This web site has two purposes:
First, it organizes the work and expresses the views of students taking a Radford University class entitled The First Amendment and Higher Education during the Spring of 2013. The class is offically listed as COMS 460 section 02.
Secondly, the web site will record efforts of the class to change the culture of censorship and the spiral of silence about it at Radford University. Our goal is nothing less than a full policy overhaul at the university.
Questions have been raised about why this site has disabled comments. We do have a Facebook page for discussions and comments, but we’ve found that the WordPress Content Management System is prone to malware when you leave it wide open. So until that is fixed, we have to encourage comments on Facebook. Or email comments to one of our editors and we will post your comments. We dont want to discourage discussion at all. But there are problems with the WordPress commenting system. Thanks.
Rationale for the class
It has often been observed that a central goal of the university is to educate citizens so that they are capable of exercising their roles in a democracy. So, it can be argued, the issues surrounding the First Amendment “strike at the very heart of the work of the academy.”
By virtue of its long tradition and history, Virginia has a special responsibility to advance the cause of religious freedom and political speech. In fact, the ideas embedded in the Bill of Rights of 1791 were already articulated in the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776. The overarching concept, as so eloquently expressed by Thomas Jefferson, was this:
No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be to leave open to him all the avenues to truth.
According to First Amendment theory, even the least attractive ideas should enter the marketplace of ideas in order to be contested. Even if completely false, the contrast serves the purpose, as John Stuart Mill said, of creating a greater appreciation for the truth. Thus, the provision of a large forum with an appropriately level playing field should be a major goal for higher education.
Why a class?
In the fall of 2011, a class on the First Amendment and Higher Education was suggested as a way to open up discussion on Radford University’s many controversies about free speech and provide frames of reference to Constitutional law.
The controversies include:
- Greek sign ordinance: The City of Radford censors citizen speech by requiring prior approval of the content of all signs and banners in the university district and enforcing this ordinance with the police department. They do this with the approval and support of Radford University. The policies are clearly discriminatory against a class of people and are an affront to the First Amendment and Virginia tradition.
- Stamps of Approval: All bulletin board posters and mailbox fliers to student groups must have stamps of approval.
- Zoned speech: The spread of ideas is restricted to narrow zones and assigned exclusively to registered student clubs. Many courts have found these policies contradict the First Amendment.
- Campus internet policies: Faculty, student and departmental web sites are centrally controlled by staff and are structurally difficult (or impossible) to update on a timely basis.
- Campus communication policies: It is impossible to advertise events to the campus community independently, and certain forms of communication — such as new and interesting classes for students and some meetings of student groups are not permitted the the university email system.