News, On Campus

Upcoming: BC Republicans to Host Debate Exploring Free Speech and Self-Censorship

At Boston College, students are not permitted to post flyers if they are not part of a student organization, and any form of public speech, rally, demonstration, or protest can only take place if the event has an approved permit, which needs to be submitted a minimum of 48 hours before. The University has justified these provisions as an effort to protect any violation, directly or indirectly, of other students’ rights. The BC Republicans have taken charge in bringing student organizations together to explore the topic of free speech on college campuses.

BC Republicans will host a debate about free speech and self-censorship on April 5 at 7 p.m. in Higgins 310. This debate will feature Harvey A. Silverglate, an attorney who also co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and Kent Greenfield, a law professor at Boston College Law School. Shep Melnick, a professor at BC’s department of politics, will moderate the debate. This event is also sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and co-hosted by UGBC, BC Republicans, the  College Democrats of BC, the Eagle Political Society, and BC’s department of political science.

Monica Coscia, MCAS ’17 and vice director for the Committee for Students Rights under UGBC, explained that the reason Students’ rights committee was brought in on this was because the committee observed that free speech is one of the students rights violations that is most often seen at BC.

“To bring more awareness to that issue, we’re bringing a debate because we want students to see both sides of the problem,” Coscia said.

Silvergate is an attorney in Cambridge who graduated from Harvard Law School. He specializes in civil liberties litigation, criminal defense, academic freedom, and students’ rights cases. Melnick teaches courses on American politics and focuses his research on the intersection of law and politics. Silvergate will be advocating for students’ right to exercise their freedom of speech. Melnick will be arguing the side of why colleges should have the right to censor students’ free speech—to protect the psychological health of students and to make sure that the campus is a tolerant environment.

“The speech code that the University imposes on us are extremely severe and definitely need to be, if not revised, taken away completely because even though when we come to BC we have a responsibility to respect the Jesuit Catholic mission, we also still have a right to free expression that is in the statutes and the bylaws of Boston College,” Coscia said. “We shouldn’t feel pressured by the University that we can’t say one thing or another. That’s not limited to vocal speech, but also posting and demonstrations and things of that nature.”

UGBC has proposed several policies to the administration in past years to ease the restrictions on students’ free speech. This past year, the Student Assembly passed a free speech and expression proposal, which included, among other things, the suggestion that a Committee for Free Expression be formed on campus.

The April 5 event aims to expose students to both sides of an issue affecting the campus and educate students about the problems that the administration and the Committee for Students Rights face when trying to change the policies surrounding freedom of speech on campus.

“Most of the policy that UGBC has presented for free expression has been rejected by the administration,” Coscia said. “So over the past two years, in particular, we’ve tried to create a free expression board, with administrators and students, but that wasn’t passed. We also tried to get a comprehensive free speech policy passed, that didn’t work either. Also, there are a lot of issues surrounding the demonstration policy, which was last year. This should be an issue that people care about.”

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

April 3, 2016