Cal State system revises conduct code to settle free-speech suit

CALIFORNIA — The California State University system isamending its student conduct code to settle a lawsuit filed last summer by SanFrancisco State’s College Republicans organization.

The lawsuit challenged provisions in the conduct code that the CollegeRepublicans said could potentially punish students for speech protected by theFirst Amendment. San Francisco State had been investigating the CollegeRepublicans for violating the conduct code during a 2006 anti-terrorism rallywhere members stomped on Hamas and Hezbollah flags displaying the name “Allah.”Among the charges was an allegation that the group violated a conduct codeprovision requiring students to be “civil to one another.”

The charges were dropped after the five-month investigation, but the groupsued to challenge the civility provision, arguing it was too broad andsuppressed free speech.

A federal magistrate in October temporarily barred the CSU system and SanFrancisco State from enforcing that provision.

The CSU Board of Trustees passed a resolution in January to amend thesection of the conduct code to state clearly that students cannot facedisciplinary charges for not being “civil to one another,” said Andrea Gunn,counsel for CSU. The amended provision now separates the section on civilityexpectations from “the grounds upon which student discipline can be based,”according to a copy of the Board of Trustees resolutions.

“Our intent was never for the ‘civil’ language to be used for discipline,”Gunn said. “We realized there was some confusion about the language and decidedto go ahead and remedy that confusion.”

As part of the settlement, CSU also agreed to delete confusing languagefrom San Francisco State’s student organization handbook, Gunn said. A sectionsaying student groups have to act consistently with the university’s “goals,principles, and policies” will be removed.

“I definitely think it’s a positive step for free speech on campus and inthe CSU system,” said Leigh Wolf, former president of College Republicans andone of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The outcome was favorable to our cause.With that in mind, it’s nice to move on to other battles.”

San Francisco State will have to pay the plaintiffs $300 in damages and paytheir attorney fees, Gunn said.