Two Fridays ago, I was busy preparing for a campus debate and finishing the final edits on my next book. It was a busy day and I simply did not have time to deal with a totalitarian college administrator posing as a genuine liberal. But these people never rest. So when the phone rang I should not have been surprised. And I knew I had a responsibility to help the distressed student, despite my busier than usual schedule.
The controversy in this case was pretty simple. The UNCW College Republicans (CRs) were hosting a political event. They put up posters on campus and all around Wilmington trying to draw people to the event. Then, one of the CR officers went to Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) to place political fliers on bulletin boards inside some of their publicly funded educational buildings.
Members of the taxpaying public should not have to ask for permission to put up political fliers on public campus bulletin boards. But the CR officer asked anyway. When she did, the CFCC administrator denied the request with this sweeping statement: CFCC does not allow political posters or fliers anywhere on campus.
I was proud of the CR officer for demanding that the administrator show her a copy of the policy that allows administrators to ban all printed political speech on a publicly funded college campus. I was unsurprised to hear that the administrator failed to produce evidence of the nonexistent policy. Nor was I surprised when she redirected the CR officer to two different administrators who were not present in their offices during the middle of the morning.
After being redirected to the two empty offices, the CR officer called me to explain the situation and seek my advice. I sent her back to the CFCC campus with her iPhone to complete a very simple research project: I asked her to take a walk across campus and take pictures of every single political poster she saw.
The results of our little study will not surprise you. Obama For America (OFA) posters were hanging in plain sight all across campus. So I called the administrator who had banned the Republican posters from the CFCC campus. When she picked up the phone, I said "Hi. My name is Mike Adams. I've called to ask some questions about one of your policies that restricts political speech on campus." Her reaction suggested that she may have heard of me before.
I did not get very far into my First Amendment lecture before that administrator transferred me to another office. The reception I got there was markedly more professional. I explained the illegality of a policy banning all printed political speech. I explained that it was irrelevant because the policy actually does not exist because the administrator simply made it up. Then, I arranged a time for the student to come back to seek approval with two things in her hand: 1. A stack of political posters advertising a Republican event. 2. An iPhone loaded with pictures of OFA posters hanging all over the CFCC campus.
By the end of the day, the posters were hanging on the campus. I went back to preparing for my debate and working on my book edits. When I finished those tasks I sat down to catch up on my column chronicles of the campus free speech wars. I wrote this specific column in order to illustrate the followings points:
1. Campus censorship, which began in the elite private schools and spread to the state universities has now reached our community college campuses.<>2. All of these institutions are populated with armies of administrators who are, at best, indifferent to First Amendment principles.
3. Increasingly, many campus administrators, including those at small community colleges, are openly hostile toward the First Amendment.
4. Hostile administrators often invent campus policies in an effort to shut down the marketplace of ideas.
5. The goal of hostile administrators is to completely remove any semblance of conservative thought from the marketplace of ideas. Their goal is total domination of the ideological marketplace.
6. Administrators rely upon a combination of student apathy and student ignorance in their efforts to reduce intellectual diversity on campus.
7. When questioned by others in positions of authority, these administrators generally refuse to answer questions and try to pass responsibility on to other administrators.
8. When initially confronted, those other administrators claim ignorance of the facts concerning alleged constitutional violations.
9. When confronted again with explicit evidence and implicit threats of litigation, campus administrators often capitulate.
10. Even small free speech victories require substantial effort due to the size of the college administration and the ambiguity of its organizational structure.
There really is little wonder why some administrators at CFCC sought to keep OFA posters as the sole examples of political speech on campus. It really isn't political speech. It's just the way things ought to be. The OFA movement protects the administrative bureaucracy. The administrative bureaucracy protects the OFA movement. That is how these things move. Forward.
These days, the purpose of speech at government schools is to grow the government. It isn't about the students. It hasn't been that way since the 1960s.
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