Spring 2016 Editorial Board
Auburn University’s speech and demonstration policy states that demonstrations, protests and speeches may only be conducted on the steps of Ralph Brown Draughon Library.
That is, unless you want to receive special authorization from the Division of Student Affairs, in which case you may or may not be granted a permit to carry out a protest at some alternate University-sanctioned location.
Some of these locations include the Graves Amphitheater, athletic department facilities or the Student Activities Center amphitheater.
Sound a little Orwellian to you? You’re not alone.
Last week, some members of the Young Americans for Liberty took to the concourse to peacefully protest the University’s free-speech policy. The protesters, led by YAL President Wesley Stone, went onto the concourse without a permit.
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Soon after, they were told to leave by Debbie Hood, the campus administrator who oversees Student Center reservations. The young lovers of liberty complied.
Both parties were civil, but nonetheless, there is something disconcerting with this scene.
The phrase “University-sanctioned freedom of speech” is worth deep consideration.
It’s seemingly an oxymoron.
It seems antithetical to American ideals.
Yet, it isn’t an entirely gross concept. We recognize that some measures must be taken to ensue safety and convenience for students. The concourse can’t be completely obstructed for the sake of protest. Students use it to get to class, and that ought to be respected.
There is, however, a precarious balance that must be reached in determining the ratio of protest efficacy and student convenience.
The University cannot always be trusted to allow the free exchange of ideas when it’s needed.
In 1961, Jim Bullington, former editor of The Auburn Plainsman, wrote a front-page article advocating integration.
Many in the student body were outraged, a cross was burned in front of the Bullington’s dorm and many linked The Plainsman to communism.
President Ralph Brown Draughon, fearing the campus would become a “cockpit for the extremists on both sides of the racial issue to fight in,” decided it would be best to stymie free press by placing Bullington on probation on the grounds that Bullington’s opinion did not match the opinion of the student body.
A year later, The Plainsman published another article advocating integration. Draughon dismissed both the writer of the article and the editor of the paper and then suspended publication of The Plainsman during the summer of 1962.
In an ideal world, the days when University administration officials would sacrifice the market of ideas to appease the general public are gone.
But we do not live in an ideal world. Protections must be in place to keep this exchange of ideas regular.
We believe the University’s speech and demonstration policy should be altered to enable protests on the concourse in front of Starbucks without permission from the University.
It’s a large, open space, so walking won’t be obstructed.
It’s in a heavily trafficked spot, so protest visibility will increase. People will be better able to voice their opinions to a wider audience.
We believe this change of policy would further ensure the progress of Auburn, even in the face of a dissenting majority.
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