Univ. of Akron will no longer require students to pre-register 'expressive speech'

The University of Akron has agreed to revise the unconstitutional speech policies that sparked controversy when a school official prevented students from passing out constitutions on campus.

As originally reported by Campus Reform, first-year law student Anthony Palumbo and several classmates affiliated with an unofficial Young Americans for Liberty chapter at the university had just begun to set up pro-liberty and free-market themed signs with the intent of recruiting new members for their group when they were confronted by an administrator and ordered to disperse.

"Hello, I work at the university. Let me just give you the low down about what you're allowed to do when it comes to 'solicitation' on a college campus. This is a public space, but within our confines we are allowed to choose what can be here, and we do that through a process of applying to be in the public space," the employee said.

When Palumbo asked what consequences the group would face for defying her instructions, the official responded, “I'm going to call the police and you're going to be charged with trespassing,” to which she amended the caveat that she did not intend for the situation to reach that point.

The group agreed to vacate, though only “under protest and duress,” and subsequently provided a video of the incident to Campus Reform in the hope of attracting attention to UA’s restrictive speech codes.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) responded, taking up the cause in a September 18 letter to University President Scott Scarborough outlining the organization’s concerns regarding the school’s speech and public expression policies.

UA Vice President and General Counsel Ted Mallo responded on Scarborough’s behalf last Friday with a letter stating that the university is currently in the process of amending its policies, and has suspended the problematic regulations while that process unfolds.

“The University is in the process of reviewing the concerns you raised in your letter and has met with Mr. Palumbo regarding the incident described in your letter,” Mallo tells FIRE. “It is the University’s hope that it can address Mr. Palumbo[‘s] and your concerns in a proactive and educational manner.”

Mallo goes on to explain that UA “has been working to amend its existing public assembly and free speech policies and procedures” in response to several recent federal court rulings, specifying that “the amended policy, when adopted, will remove registration requirements for University students, faculty, and other administrators seeking to engage in expressive activities on campus.”

Under the new policy, student and other members of the school community will be allowed to reserve space for public demonstrations, but will only need to alert the university beforehand when planned activities present “a strong likelihood of disrupting the educational activities of the University,” Mallo continues.

“Until the University’s new policy has been formally adopted, the University will suspend the current registration requirements for students and other University community members,” the letter concludes. “It is the University’s hope that this interim measure will allow students like Mr. Palumbo to exercise their rights consistent with the current case law.”

Peter Bonilla, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, reacted to the university’s letter with similar sentiments, telling Campus Reform that FIRE is “pleased that the University of Akron has been responsive to our concerns, and that student expression there will be freer as a result,” and expressing his hope that “other universities will follow Akron's example in working quickly to remedy deficiencies in their free speech policies for the benefit of their students.”

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