Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, August 16, 2018

Staff ed: AU needs to embrace freedom of speech

Earlier this month The Beagle launched its first edition and became AU’s newest satirical publication. A second print edition soon proved harder to promote after an MGC staff member allegedly stopped The Beagle staff members from passing out new copies, according to The Beagle Facebook page. While this may not seem like a big deal, this incident shines light on the stifling of AU’s canvassing policy and freedom of speech.

The MGC staffer who allegedly disposed of The Beagle was not acting arbitrarily. This employee was merely enforcing AU’s Student Conduct Code, which states that “unauthorized soliciting by any individual, group, or organization,” is considered “misconduct” and therefore subject to “disciplinary action.”

In other words, a student can only hand out or tape up content that is approved by AU, including a flyer on a bulletin.

Unfortunately, the University does not make it easy for students or clubs to learn about the process of getting material approved. While the AU website details the entire process for approving posters and content on the televisions, most students are not aware of this nor do they know how to look for it.

And even if a student receives approval, he or she is not allowed to “obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic on campus” or “create a volume of sound that prevents members of the University from conducting their normal activities,” in an effort to solicit their product. In our interpretation of the Student Conduct Code, a student can print and display what is approved, but only while sitting quietly at a table. The source is never allowed to make the first move.

In some respect, the canvassing policy makes sense. It takes no stretch of the imagination to picture MGC as a wasteland littered with club representatives constantly harassing pedestrians with flyers. Regulation is necessary, but the University overstepped that boundary.

AU needs to take initiative and inform the entire student body of their rights regarding freedom of expression. If violating these rules can possibly result in disciplinary action, students should not be forced to sift through 15 pages of 12-point font in order to know their rights. These policies should be clear, detailed and easily accessible, especially for student clubs and organizations.

Once those rights are firmly established, all students should be informed of the process of publication approval and where to seek further information. A web page buried beneath the thousands of pages on the AU website is hardly accessible.

However, The Eagle editorial board does not think flyers should not be held to the same standard as professional publications. AU should construct a “Freedom of Speech Wall,” similar to the one constructed at Georgetown University so that students can publically express themselves without University approval. Such an effort would show support for the First Amendment rights of all students at AU.

The Eagle finally suggests that the Student Conduct Code be amended to allow certain organizations and individuals to canvass and solicit their product with University approval. Therefore, all publications including new ones like The Beagle, should be able to solicit their product. We are taught to take initiative and be the change we want to see in the world at AU, but that ambition is stifled when one is forced to sit a table and watch readers stroll by. -E


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