Thursday, September 18, 2008

Free Speech at VSU III

Update on a funny post we did a while back. I apologize for the lack of funny here, but there's more news than funny!

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (F.I.R.E) kicked up a little victory dance on Thursday after receiving a letter from new VSU President Dr. Patrick J Schloss declaring unconditional surrender of the Free Expression Area and replacing it with a new, shorter, policy named The General Public Forum Venue.

This effectively ends the national publicity campaign to make VSU a pariah among College and Universities; but, like doggy do scraped off your shoe, the smell lingers and you sniff in vain hope that it is all gone. It's not, but first some exposition for those who came in late.

It was a controversy that few understood because so little actual reporting was done on the actual issues at hand by both the Valdosta Daily Times and The VSU Spectator. After the full page color ad in the US News and World Report's college issue, the Spectator was filled with letter writers and editorials who confused the policy issue with the expulsion of one T Hayden Barnes and his quixotic fight against a parking deck.

Here is the scoop: VSU had a policy that limited public debate to two non-consecutive hours on a postage stamp of a stage and only on weekends and non-students were not welcome. Like most policy statements, no one ever bothered to read it and VSU only bothered to enforce it when some outside agitator wanted to set up shop to harangue passersby on the Palms Quad.

The Barnes affair led F.I.R.E. to read the policy. They immediately recognized the "chilling effect" the policy could have on free speech because they had won that lawsuit before. A fine legal point this "chilling effect", but lost on students who are rarely bothered with anything chillier than a bottle of Bud.

The policy was trouble waiting to happen. It was like a bottle of Gin in the bedroom of a recovering alcoholic. One day, some administrator would reach for the bottle and havok would pour out. We've had enough First Amendment havok for this century. Better to flush the contents of this particular bottle down the loo.

T Hayden Barnes' lawsuit is still creeping toward a jury trial. I expect that the lawyers are negotiating the size of the award at the dizzy pace expected of those who bill by the hour.

Should a trial begin, Valdosta and VSU will be made to look like ignorant rubes in the national media and the jury will give Mr. Barnes a big chuck of change If a settlement occurs, the national media will, by rote, vomit up the story one more time to remind everyone that we are still ignorant rubes and Mr. Barnes will still get a stack of cash.

Whichever happens, when it happens, we'll finally be shut of this thing. It can't come soon enough for us or Mr. Barnes, who must be tired of waiting for his jackpot.

The new policy has nothing in it to prevent what the original policy tried to prevent - preachers who visit the campus and call passing students whoremongers and fornicators. It also doesn't prevent combative students for getting in their face and calling them fundamentalist pin heads. A venerable campus custom has been revived. Someone call me when it starts and I'll bring the popcorn.

Who knew Free Speech could be so much fun?