"This is an abomination," said Robert Bezemek,
an attorney for the Peralta Federation of Teachers, which has threatened
to sue if the policy is adopted. "This is a (policy) Martin Luther King
would have violated the moment he spoke. For 270 years, the colleges of
this country have been free-speech zones."
Peralta is only the
latest district to consider the so-called free-speech zones, which have
riled academics around the country.The Peralta guidelines are the
result of a dispute with an anti-abortion group that has visited
several East Bay colleges in the past two years, the district's
attorney, Thuy Nguyen, told a small group of students, professors and
other employees at Oakland's Laney College on Wednesday.
reacted angrily to Nguyen's explanation.The proposed policy, No.
5550, is still being altered, Nguyen said, although she declined to
discuss specifics. The discussion comes as administrators at a San
Diego-area community college, Southwestern College, continue to battle
professors over a similar policy, which also is labeled No. 5550. And the City College of San
Francisco last year settled a federal lawsuit filed by Jews for Jesus
after one of its members was arrested for speaking on campus.
The proposed rules handed out at Wednesday's meeting would limit speakers to the main quads at Laney, Merritt College and the College of Alameda, and to a student lounge at Berkeley City College. Speakers would be required to reserve the space at least three business days in advance, and all fliers posted on campus bulletin boards would need to include English translations.Although the proposal notes that administrators may not prevent someone from speaking based on the subject of their speech, it prohibits "disruptive behavior" and the "open and persistent defiance of the authority" of college employees. It also would ban obscenity, profanity and amplification.
Nguyen said she is still negotiating the final version with the anti-abortion group, which filed a claim against the district because it said Peralta unfairly restricted an event at the College of Alameda. A settlement is imminent, she said.
"If there's any light at the end of the tunnel, it's an ability to coexist," she said.
Some argued that the proposed rules were too vague, but said the college district was right to provide structure. Students and employees have been harassed by groups carrying video cameras and posting graphic photographs of aborted fetuses, said Margaret Traylor, a Laney librarian.
in this world needs a framework," she said. "That's just part of being
in a community."
An estimated 70 percent of U.S. public colleges and universities restrict speech in some way, said Will Creeley, director of legal and public advocacy for the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has fought against free-speech zones around the country.
It would be unreasonable —
and unconstitutional — for Peralta to require speakers to reserve time
to express opinions, Creeley said.
Free-speech zones "do not allow students to express thoughts on the events of the day," he said. "Students have to be allowed to get together without registering in advance."