Proposed free speech zones at Peralta spark concern

By Reginald James Editor
George Orwell’s novel, 1984, described a world of an oppressive totalitarian regime, extreme government surveillance and an erosion of citizen’s rights.

A proposal at the Peralta Colleges to establish “free speech zones” has evoked Orwellian visions of the campuses’ futures. Yet others see the proposal as a necessary procedure to protect free speech.

Free Speech Zone Forum

May 12, 2010
Noon to 1 p.m.
Laney College, T-450
The draft “Administrative Procedures (AP) 5550 – Speech: Time, Place, and Manner” will regulate public “speech activities” on campus. Individuals and organizations from the community that “wish to table, display materials, petition, engage in public address, distribute literature and/or post flyers” would have to comply with the proposed regulations.

“Historically, free speech zones have been used by those in power to limit free speech,” said Matthew Goldstein, co-chair of the Laney College English Department, referencing the zones set up by former President George W. Bush’s administration that critics called, “free speech cages.”

Speakers would be required to submit a "Request for Reservation" form to the Student Activities Advisor of the College they wanted to speak.

“This means that those who determine who gets to use the free speech zones get to decide what speech is permissible,” Goldstein said. "A politically and morally intolerable state of affairs.”

The draft proposal states, "The Request for Reservation does not involve any review or approval of the content of the speaker's speech activity."

Requests for non-students to come on campus would have to be made three days in advance and will be made on first-come first basis, according to the procedure. The requests could be denied if the request conflicts with another reservation or previously scheduled student activities, or during finals week.

The proposed designated areas are the individual main quads at College of Alameda, Laney College and Merritt College, and the Student Lounge at Berkeley City College. “While engaging in speech activities,” according to the proposal, “speakers must remain in these specified areas only.”

“The purpose (of the policy) is to clarify and define rights on free speech and assembly” on the campuses, according to General Counsel Thuy Nguyen, who wrote the procedure. She added that the policy – which has been in the works for some time – was brought about by the recent, controversial anti-abortion demonstrators at Laney College and COA. “We had a few instances at two of our colleges around rights of anti-abortion protesters,” Nguyen said.

In 2008, three members of an anti-abortion group, “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust,” were arrested at COA and charged with trespassing. The arrests led to litigation between the group and Peralta. In March of this year, an anti-abortion group arrived on International Women’s Day with graphic ten foot banners with images of dismembered fetuses.

“In light of our experience in March with the abortion folks and their tactics that offended a lot of people,” Laney College Vice President of Student Services Dr. Donald Moore said, “the college is committed to having free speech. But how do you have it at a community college with various interests?” Moore asked. “Some believe these people (anti-abortion group) should be banned.”

Goldstein said, “Grownups need to understand that free speech can be ugly and irresponsible at times, but that tolerating all types of speech – event that (especially that) which offends us – is absolutely fundamental in a democracy.”

Both Moore and Goldstein recognize the policy raises concerns about academic freedom.

Student representatives contacted for comment were not familiar with the proposal.

The policy also regulates posting of literature on campus, although most Student Activities offices already have policies.

The policy does not mention military recruiters, who have had an increased presence on campus this past year and have also placed advertisements in the student newspaper, the Laney Tower.

A forum will be held at Laney College on May 12 from noon to 1 p.m. in room T-450 on the proposed Administrative Procedures.

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