Cal Poly Pomona has agreed to clarify its longstanding commitment to freedom of expression rights for its students, following a misunderstanding involving a student activist earlier this year.
“We want to be absolutely clear on this issue: Cal Poly Pomona cares deeply about free speech. It is essential to our mission as a learning-centered university and a vital part of a vibrant campus culture,” says Rebecca Gutierrez Keeton, acting vice president for student affairs. “A free marketplace of ideas helps our students grow as well-informed and confident individuals.”
University guidelines have always guaranteed the right of students to freely express and share their views on campus, but an incident in February highlighted the need for additional training to ensure that staff who address free speech issues are well-versed about those guarantees. In that incident, a student was mistakenly told that he could not protest in favor of veganism and hand out vegan literature on campus without a permit.
Based on this incident, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed a lawsuit against Cal Poly Pomona. In the past year, the organization has sued 10 public universities.
“It’s unfortunate that FIRE leaped straight into legal action without giving us a chance to collaborate with them on finding a solution,” Gutierrez Keeton says. “This issue represents money taken right out of the pocket of our students — money that could have been better served benefitting their education.”
To increase awareness and improve understanding of the campus’ free-speech protections, the university has made changes to help ensure such an incident will not happen again. Those changes include:
- A rewording of the Presidential Order on the Use of University Buildings, Facilities or Grounds so it is unequivocal about students’ right to free expression on campus.
- Training for University Police and staff in the Office of Student Life and Cultural Centers who may be expected to answer questions about free speech activities, as well as the use of university buildings, facilities or grounds.
To see the presidential order pertaining to free speech rights on campus, visit https://www.cpp.edu/~policies/presidential_orders/CPP%20Revised%20Presidential%20Order%207-14-15.pdf