Opinion: USU’s Student Code restricts students’ rights to free speech

I propose a revision.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State University's Old Main building in Logan, Utah, on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

Utah State University’s Student Code fails to protect students’ constitutional rights, allowing faculty and administrators to restrict students’ freedom of speech. As a current undergraduate at USU, I’ve experienced this firsthand.

I’ve dealt with politically charged classrooms throughout my education, but this semester has been different. The political agenda that’s been sneakily ingrained into course material stood boldly in the open. In one class, a professor mandated they/them pronouns for all, even the people within the material, unless told otherwise by the individual — a clear infringement on free speech, in my opinion.

In a different class, a professor went on a several-minutes-long tangent during student introductions to voice an opinion on Florida House Bill 1557 — the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. The professor claimed that one student, who didn’t seem keen on political discourse in class, should be grateful he/she’s not student-teaching in Florida, because he/she’d have to worry about offending an eighth grade white boy.

The professor is entitled to his/her opinion, of course, but what did it have to do with an English class? If any student had tried to express an unrelated opinion on a random bill, I’m sure that student would have been promptly shut down.

The blatant disregard for students’ time in class as well as for their First Amendment rights gave me a desire to speak out. But I didn’t want to say anything that’s unprotected by USU, so I looked up the Student Code to see what I could safely express. There I found that USU students are expected to follow “class guidelines as set forth in syllabi and as enunciated by their instructors,” and that all interactions “shall be conducted with […] civility, decency, and a concern for personal dignity.”

Gee thanks, USU.

This policy is considered a “policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech” by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). It’s why FIRE has designated USU a “red light” school.

At USU, I am expected to restrict my speech to they/them, regardless of my constitutional rights. If I don’t, I’ll be breaking class guidelines and the student code. And, as this would be a repeated and egregious offense, USU could “take judicial action… regardless of the manner in which the incident was reported.” In other words, my place at USU depends on my silence.

There is no explicit language that protects freedom of speech in the classroom. To remedy this, I propose a revision of the student code to add specific language that the students’ constitutional rights to free speech, religion and happiness be protected in the classroom. It should clarify that if the professor goes off topic or has an unconstitutional class rule, the student may speak against it or disobey it with no fear of reprimand.

It makes no sense to me to pay thousands of dollars to attend school and be subjected to unconstitutional rules. The student should hold more power than any member of faculty. A university is for the students, not the professors. A classroom is for education, not indoctrination. This would enable students to speak against guidelines and course tangents that may be inappropriate or unconstitutional without fear of “judicial action.”

Some might deem my views undesirable — or even hateful — and that’s OK. They are entitled to their opinion, as well. But free speech entails the existence of a wide range of views — from praiseworthy to outright cruel.

The Free To Choose Network’s new docuseries, Free To Speak, tackles this very issue. For instance, it may seem radical to protect the speech of someone who wishes you harm, but it’s this radical idea that allows disparate people to share one nation and to enjoy the same liberties. It is on this radical idea of personal, economic and political freedom that our Founding Fathers built this country. Without these rights, we cannot call ourselves free Americans.

Collin Lamborn

Collin Lamborn is an undergraduate student at USU studying English. He lives in Logan and is an avid supporter of the Constitution and liberty for all.

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