The line between disobedience and discussion is faint, and the debate about what it appropriate as free expression rages on at Central Missouri State University.
University policy allows for orderly demonstrations which do not disrupt vehicular or pedestrian traffic, or interfere with the functioning of the University. All demonstrations must be scheduled with the University’s Office of Facilities and Conference Services forty-eight hours before hand and may take place only in the Amphitheater. The amphitheater is located at the intersection of Holden St. and Union St. next to Vernon Kennedy Field far from the quadrangle around the flagpole and the Student Union where most students spend time.
Concerns have been raised by some student groups that the university is trading the free speech rights of students for the appearance of picturesque order.
“I think it discourages students’ freedom of expression,” Tammy Houston said of what she considers bad educational policy, “You’re telling them that they can only feel this way during certain times on certain days.”
Marquel Jacoway, a member of PSSA who is working to organize a student lobbying group, was worried students would only become aware of the policy after it was used to break up a demonstration; then, he felt, would be too late.
During the PSSA meeting, faculty advisor Dr. Shari Garber Bax pointed out the irony that while CMSU has a flagpole decorated with the text of the Bill of Rights, students are forbidden to peacefully assemble beside it.
According to Walt Hicklin, Vice-President of Student Affairs who is responsible for the enforcement of university rules, the policy is intended to maintain order on campus, not stifle student activity. The current policy came about nearly a decade ago after the acquittal of officers charged with Beating Rodney King Jr. caused riots around the country.
CMSU was not untouched; classes proceeded under the watch of state police.
Although demonstrations were rare on campus, the university began looking into the ways other schools handled them.
“We knew that by the law we had a right to name time, place, and manor in which demonstrations could take place,” Hicklin said, “How do we let the student who’s not interested in demonstrating go about his business and get his education without being bothered?”
Key to preventing disruption, Hicklin said, moving protests and gatherings to low traffic areas like the amphitheater.
“We used to have this guy who supposedly was a minister,” Hicklin said, “He would set himself up on the main steps to the union and start preaching and telling all of our girls they were whores and sluts. We almost had fights.”
While making campus much more orderly, Hicklin admitted that the policy reduced the effectiveness of protests because only those involved before hand would know a demonstration was going to take place.
The policy also forbids the distribution of leaflets on campus outside the auditorium, a fact Hicklin was not aware of.
“In fact to be very honest with you, I didn’t know it was that way. I hadn’t looked at it that closely.”
Hicklin then explained that he had no problem with literature being passed out if done in an orderly manor.
Some groups, however, skirt the rules. Both Hobson and Hicklin mentioned the Gideons, a religious group that distributes copies of the Bible. Each fall they gather on the sidewalks along the outer edge of campus handing out copies of the New Testament. The outer sidewalks, according to Hicklin, belong to the city and are subject to the city’s ordinances. This group, Hicklin, said was always orderly and never caused problems.
Hicklin stressed that when applying the college’s rules, he tries to see the policies from the student’s perspective. As an example, several years ago a demonstration was organized by a student in the amphitheater. Because no one was aware of the demonstration, he moved up next to the flagpole. Hicklin decided that no action was necessary because the student’s protest was quiet and orderly.
Hicklin acknowledged that flaws existed in the university’s policy but warned against simply deleting the rule. Hicklin would like suggestions from students and faculty on how the rule could changed and improved.
“We ought to have something so we don’t have someone completely disrupting the normal flow of ideas and people on this campus, “he said, “I ought to have just as much right not to hear that as you do to hear it, and don‘t tell me ‘you ought to just walk away from it.’ I will, but I shouldn’t have to be subjected to it.”
The University’s Political Science Students’ Association is hosting a discussion on September 19 on university policies including the demonstration policy. The meeting begins at 3:30 in Wood 003b. All students and faculty are welcome.