New speech policy delayed over censorship concerns

CALIFORNIA — Administrators have delayed a plan to revise Riverside Community College District’s campus speech policy to address concerns that it could lead to censorship of student newspapers.

The revised code would state that the “District’s commitment to the exercise of free speech and free expression is not intended to convert all of the facilities maintained and/or owned by the District into a public forum, limited public forum or designated public forum.”

Chancellor Salvatore Rotella delayed adopting the measure Tuesday after receiving complaints from students and faculty that the wording could open the door to censorship of student media.

Rotella and Linda Lacy, vice chancellor of student services, have scheduled a meeting for Oct. 18 with advisers and students from the campus media to discuss their concerns and possibly revise the code.

The new speech policy concerned student editors and advisers in the district, who said they were already worried about the possible effects of the Hosty v. Carter decision. In that case, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that a student newspaper must be designated as a public forum for editors to have strong First Amendment protection. The 7th Circuit only has jurisdiction over Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

“Right after we heard about [Hosty] and were nervous about it, then we find out that they want to designate Riverside a non-public forum,” said Matt Hendrickson, editor in chief of the Norco Voice, one of the three student-run newspapers in the Riverside Community College District.

Lacy said that the revision to the speech code was a response to recent court rulings in California that administrators were defining too narrowly school provisions for the time, place and manner of conducting free expression activities. The right to free expression of students at California Community Colleges is protected under a state law, Education Code section 76120.

The revised code was reviewed and passed by the student senate in the spring, she said.

The newspaper should not be affected by the speech policy revision because it applies expressly to leaflets, posters and protesters, Lacy said. The student media has its own specific policy guidelines which are unrelated to the speech policy.

Hendrickson said the Chancellor’s decision to table the revision until a meeting could be held was a very good sign for the student media. Lacy said that she and the Chancellor are open to revising the policy to specifically designate the student media an open forum as long as the college’s lawyers find the new wording legal.

“We’d never do anything that would inhibit the student media,” Lacy said.

by Kim Peterson, SPLC staff writer