University retracts policy restricting student speech

INDIANA — Tri-State University students are free to speak with the media after the school retracted a policy asking students to contact marketing officials before granting an interview.

Tri-State University officials revoked the policy Monday after criticism from students and free expression advocates.

School spokesman Patrick Johansen said the university, located in Angola, Ind., retracted the policy because officials are in the process of revising the policy and the revisions are “taking longer than expected.”

School officials sent an e-mail to students and employees on Oct. 14 asking them not to answer reporters’ questions without explicit permission from the school’s Department of Brand & Integrated Marketing.

Because the school is a private university, it does not have the same constitutional limitations in censoring students that apply to public institutions.

But such policies could have “a chilling effect” on students wanting to discuss crime on campus, said S. Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus, a non-profit organization dedicated to campus crime awareness.

Carter said his organization was worried about potential Clery Act violations because the policy could have suppressed the speech of crime victims.

The Clery Act, which passed in 1990 and has been amended several times since then, requires all public and private colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to release information about campus crime and safety including annual campus crime statistics and a campus security department crime log.

The right of victims to disclose crimes, even when school disciplinary hearings are involved, was granted by the Department of Education in a decision handed down last year involving Georgetown University.

Johansen said the policy would have complied with Clery Act regulations.

He said the e-mail misconstrued the department’s wishes by using strong language, creating the interpretation that his department was censoring students.

The school wanted to maintain safety and privacy for the students after a reporter gained entry to a residence hall in fall 2004 without the knowledge of school officials, Johansen said.

The policy was designed to help students learn to deal with the media by teaching them about the ramifications of words and actions, Johansen said, adding that the school would not have sanctioned students who chose to answer a reporter’s questions.

The policy could have had a “silencing effect” even without punishment, Carter said.

Student newspaper reporters would not have been affected by these guidelines, said Johansen, who also serves as the student newspaper adviser.

by Kyle McCarthy, SPLC staff writer