Modesto Junior College Fails To Learn Anything From Its Previous Free Speech Failure
from the betting-it-all-on-'wrong' dept
Modesto Junior College has gone into damage control mode after the news spread of its refusal to allow a student to hand out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day. Instead of realizing the complete folly of restricting free speech to two people at a time (with advance notice and permission) and a small cement slab, the administrators clung to the policy manual like it was handed down by Founding Fathers themselves.
But hefty policy manuals are no match for viral news coverage. In addition to Techdirt's immaculate coverage, the story also appeared at Popehat, Reason, Huffington Post, Fox News and the local paper, the Modesto Bee.
At first the district tried to hastily walk back Modesto's decision via this post on its Facebook page.
The Yosemite Community College District’s (YCCD) colleges have free speech areas on campus for activities such as distributing materials on campus. In addition, people can distribute material in the areas generally available to students and the community as long as they don't “disrupt the orderly operation of the college.” In the case of the YouTube video, it did not appear that the student was disrupting the orderly operation of the college. Therefore, we are looking into the matter. The administration of the YCCD supports the peaceful distribution of the Constitution and other materials on campus, which is why our colleges support Constitution Day with activities each year.As FIRE points out, it's all well and good that the district recognizes that the student (Van Tuinen) wasn't disrupting anything by distributing copies of the Constitution on campus, but that still doesn't change the fact that Modesto Junior College still deferred by its speech-limiting policies. So, the whole sentence after "in addition" is essentially meaningless on MJC's campus.
Now that the backlash has hit, the college has taken to an arm of the media to complain about the media. The president of the school, Jill Stearns, has posted an editorial at the Modesto Bee entitled "Media Unfair to MJC on Free Speech Incident," and it's equally defensive and deluded.
In addition to the positive event that took place [a school-sanctioned Constitution Day event], a college incident occurred which has sparked hatred and cruelty toward MJC staff, stemming from a video that was aired nationally.I love it when incidents just "occur" -- incidents marked by the inaction of everyone involved (or not involved, I guess.) No one's responsible for anything that happened that day except Van Tuinen, whose "nationally aired" video unfairly portrayed those on the periphery of this spontaneously-occurring suppression of speech. No one sent a cop out to confront him or direct him to the concrete slab o' freedom. It all just sort of… happened.
The media coverage does not reflect the campus culture or college mission. The coverage does not depict the commitment to students demonstrated by our faculty, staff and administration each day. The coverage provides a very limited glimpse of Modesto Junior College that has motivated a vast number of individuals across our country to voice their concern through email and phone calls. The coverage creates a misunderstanding of MJC to the extreme.
Stearns may not like how the incident portrays her school, but it's her school's policies and staff that come out looking worse, not the "culture" or the "mission." It's the policy that's bad. But when confronted about the sheer ridiculousness of this public school's limits on free speech, those employed directly by the college reduced themselves to spouting off paragraphs from the student handbook. If this is how those in the upper levels of administration respond to challenges, the school's mission and culture are doomed.
But Stearns isn't finished, and despite the fact that the so-called Free Speech Zone was the starting point for much of the criticism, she somehow feels that concept is still worth defending.
Unfortunately those contacting the college have no interest in the fact that we carve out designated free speech areas on campus such that any disruption to ordinary operations of the college are minimized. They have no interest in the fact that people are allowed to distribute materials, constitutions, etc., even beyond these designated areas.You're (perhaps intentionally) misreading the criticism if you think those contacting the college about this story have "no interest" in the "free speech areas." That's the crux of the issue. Free speech isn't supposed to be limited to small areas and left to the discretion of the administration as to what speech it will or won't allow (with advance notice).
As for the media having "no interest" in the "fact" that students are also allowed to distribute materials outside these free speech areas, it would appear your staff is similarly disinterested. Not once was it suggested Van Tuinen could return to distributing copies of the Constitution. Instead, he was pointed in the direction of the policies relating to the "free speech area."
And as for the supposed "disruption" you're so concerned about preventing with these speech limitations? FIRE has an answer for that.
That such restrictive policies might be necessary to ensure the “ordinary operations of the college” is an empty argument. According to data collected from FIRE’s Spotlight database of campus speech restrictions, roughly one in six of America’s top 409 schools maintain restrictive free speech zones. On the campuses of the remaining five-sixths of schools without free speech zone policies, one hardly finds disorder and mayhem. Unsurprisingly, students can co-exist with the free and open expression of ideas. They do not need campus bureaucrats to tell them how to do so.Stearns takes a final swing at the media on her way out.
Moreover, Van Tuinen’s video illustrates that free expression can occur outside of the college’s tiny free speech zone without disrupting university classes our operations. The distribution of copies of the Constitution on campus—outside of the free speech zone, no less—created no disruption whatsoever.
Rest assured that what the national media attempted to portray is not an accurate reflection of MJC.Kind of hard to claim something was misrepresented when anyone can watch a recording of the entire encounter. That portrayal alone, without additional commentary, is damning enough.
This sort of behavior is far too common. When an entity is publicly shamed for its own stupidity, it often decides the real villain is the "media." This is the laziest form of scapegoating and often the most hypocritical, as no entity has ever disputed a positive portrayal by the media. Only when they're still feeling the sting of backlash do they find fault in the coverage.
Fix your policy, MJC. And until that's fixed, please stop whining about the consequences of your own actions.