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Freedom of speech at VSU on FIRE

Written by: Kailee Kivett, Staff Writer

VSU is in the red, and not in the money sense.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) categorizes VSU as a Red Light University, which means that VSU has at least one policy that FIRE says clearly and significantly restricts freedom of speech.

FIRE’s  grading system for these policies is Red Light for super restrictive, Yellow Light for somewhat restrictive, and Green Light for barely restrictive.

Valdosta’s Red Light Policy is about internet usage. This policy prohibits the use of the university’s email to send anything that might tarnish the university.

“Any students or faculty who are critical of the university over email are potentially subject to punishment under this policy,” Samantha Harris, FIRE’s director of policy research, said. “It is a totally inappropriate limitation on their right to free speech.”

The Red Light Policy also bans emails with offensive material, chain letters, unauthorized mass mailings, email hoaxes and malicious code.

“The policy does not define ‘offensive’ in any way, giving the university essentially total discretion to punish email users for engaging in controversial or unpopular speech over email,” Harris said.

VSU’s Yellow Light policies cover bullying, protest and demonstration, and harassment. The protest and demonstration policy states that VSU has the right to decide the time, manner, and place of demonstrations or protests.

The Green Light policy prohibits using the computing systems to make terroristic threats, unsolicited sexual advances and harassment, and obscenity that is offensive.

In 2007, VSU’s former President Ronald Zaccari academically withdrew student Hayden Barnes from the school after Barnes protested the construction of new parking garages. Barnes filed a lawsuit against Zaccari, claiming that his due process and freedom of speech rights had been violated.

FIRE wrote to the Board of Regents various times, asking them to reverse Barnes’ expulsion. The board eventually reinstated Barnes in 2008.

FIRE also wrote to VSU in the past to express their concern over the “Free Expression Area” policy, which restricted the area for free speech to one stage and only gave students’ access to it for two hours a day. VSU was briefly taken off the Red Light list after they did away with this policy, but it was put back on the list due to the strict internet usage policy.

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