SDSU touts 'free speech' credentials...and new 'bias' reporting tool

The announcement of the portal was packaged with an announcement of a "free speech" website, where students can go to learn more about their First Amendment rights.

A closer look at the policies noted on the "free speech" website calls into question the university's purported commitment to the ideal.

San Diego State University launched a new online portal for reporting incidents on campus that include "messages of bias."

San Diego State University launched a new bias reporting system, but packaged it as part of a larger community communication effort, including a website dedicated to “free speech.” 

In addition to being launched alongside a tool that encourages the reporting of “incidents of bias,” the “free speech” website focuses in large part on reserving the rights of the university to restrict the “time, place, and manner” of speech. The site for the university’s new “inclusive reporting system” encourages students to report “instances that promote our campus commitment, as well as those that fall short.”

”Negative incident examples” cited by the university include things like “proselytizing on campus,” and posting fliers that “contain messages of bias.” Students are asked to report these incidents via a web portal. From there, the incidents will be reviewed by a board with members from various departments, including the University Police and the Division of Diversity and Innovation. This board will then decide whether or not “further review and action” needs to be taken in regard to each report.

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In addition to asking about the race of the individual filing the report, the incident report form also prompts the user to select their gender, offering 12 options, including not only “transgender,” but also “genderqueer,” “agender,” “two spirit,” and “gender fluid.”

Packaged alongside the reporting system was the launch of the university’s “free speech” website, including a statement about the school’s commitment “to providing both the space and the conditions that encourage open and free exchange.”

”Both resources were developed and launched collaboratively with SDSU divisions and departments after a community call — namely from students and faculty — to provide clear and easily accessible information, policies and resources related to free expression and campus activities,” the university stated in a dual announcement.

A section of the website labeled “learn,” tells students that “The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. The amendment guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely.  It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.” 

Immediately after synthesizing its version of the First Amendment, the university goes on to detail its right to maintain “reasonable regulations” surrounding free speech on campus. 

All organizations, whether recognized student groups or not, are required to submit an application for a permit before tabling anywhere on campus. Applications from recognized student groups must be submitted two weeks before the desired date of tabling. The policy also requires that permission to table be given by the university 48 hours in advance of the scheduled tabling. 

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The university uses a triage system for permit applications. Different types of events fit into different “tiers.” “Simple tabling” efforts by student groups are classified within the first tier, and as such are subject to the time constraints previously noted. The policy is unclear about the classification for “simple tabling” for off-campus groups but is clear that the first is reserved for affiliated groups. Permits for second-tier events must be applied for a full month before the desired date.  Other tiers have even longer wait periods, as much as four months in some cases.

The same policy notes that “SDSU reserves the right to deny permitting to any organization that is not affiliated with the University.”

The new website also features a free speechFAQ section, which again directs students to the policy that details these regulations, characterizing them as reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions.

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