JMU behavior code governs off-campus expression

VIRGINIA — Recent changes to the James Madison University (JMU)behavior code includes language that claims control over student expression,regardless of proximity to campus.

The school’s newspaper staff fears the new language, inserted intothe document in June, could give the administration too much power in stoppingstudent free expression.

“Whether they realized it or not, what they’re doing isunconstitutional,” said Tim Chapman, editor-in-chief of The Breeze,JMU’s student paper.

The policy previously read, “no student shall engage in lewd,indecent, or obscene conduct or expression on university property or inuniversity-owned or operated buildings.”

Now, the last part of the line has been changed to say the activities areforbidden, “regardless of proximity to campus.”

“It seems like they were oblivious to the fact that the wording ofthe policy was stepping on First Amendment rights,” Chapman said.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate at the Student Press Law Center, said thepolicy is far too broad in the ability it grants the school to punishstudents.

“It will come as a great surprise to Congress that someone hasdiscovered a way to extend their authority offshore, because congresscan’t extend theirs offshore,” Goldstein said. “If the federalgovernment can’t do it, it’s amazing that a state institution hasfigured out a way to.”

Josh Bacon, director of the school’s Office of Judicial Affairs, saidthe policy is intended to give the school power to discipline students forcertain types of off-campus conduct. The policy was changed due to an incidentlast year involving a “peeper.” Law enforcement officials dealt withthe perpetrator, who was a student, but the Judicial Affairs staff was unable tobring any action against him, and wanted to make sure they would be able topunish such action in the future.

“It is not our intention in any way to violate First Amendment rightsor limit speech,” Bacon said. “That’s not theintention.”

The policy will most likely be changed in the spring, when school officialsconvene to discuss the policy, Bacon said. He said he would like to see itchanged in a way that will still allow the school to punish lewd behavior, butwon’t worry students about their right to free speech.