Faculty discusses outside speakers

Faculty Senate talked about the harm of Campus Ministry USA

Faculty Senate wants to find the balance between protecting university students and protecting First Amendment Rights.

Based on complaints concerning Campus Ministry USA’s visit to campus Dec. 7, Faculty Senate discussed a drafted policy addressing potentially offensive speakers on campus Friday at its meeting.

The Senate held a preliminary discussion about the draft and instructed senators to submit any more input by next Friday to either Chair Rex Strange or Kindra Strupp, assistant vice president for marketing and communications, who will compose the final document.

Strupp said her office is part of an interoffice committee to review the potential policy. Several members of the committee, including Dean of Students Bryan Rush, were unable to attend the meeting.

The issue was brought to the Senate after representatives Rob Millard-Mendez, Jessica Jensen and Charles Conaway wrote a charge detailing student harassment from the traveling religious organization’s visit last semester.

The charge included a statement from an anonymous student. The student emailed one of his professors saying the preacher “insisted” the student was on drugs because of his physical appearance while also degrading young women.

The senate was called to action on the basis that members of Campus Ministry USA violated both university policies and federal mandates with the specific comments made on that day.

Senate Vice Chair Cindy Delaney-Marino acknowledged First Amendment rights, but said the university cannot just stand back.

“As a university, we should be able to have some sort of semblance of safety and decorum,” she said.

The senators discussed the possibility of enforcing a 48-hour notice before visitors can register to speak on campus.

Liberal Arts representative Jessica Jensen suggested students being proactive and spreading positivity rather than letting a speaker put a damper on their community.

“We have so many great student organizations. I think we could brainstorm and have tables to counter negativity, like a compliment booth,” Jensen said. “It sounds silly, but it celebrates the students that are here.”

She brought up the possibility of putting up yard signs to direct a clear path away from a loud scene for students who want to avoid the drama.

“This brings up the issue of students and mental health,” Jensen said. “If students are really impacted by the negativity, we as a university have to support them, and it’s not just on the days that there’s a lot of shouting.”

Business representative Jason Fertig said labeling the potential policy as a “Free Speech Zone Policy” could indicate the faculty trying to restrict free speech, which he said is not the case at all.

“It seems the issue with Campus Ministry USA is harassment,” he said. “Any policy we make about free speech opens up the potential to be abused.”

Member-At-Large Nicholas LaRowe said not much needs to be done to the university’s current policy.

“Within it, there is a part that deals with harassing language,” he said. “It protects people, but it also protects constitutional rights.”

By making jokes based on “religious beliefs that are targeted against a specific individual,” Campus Ministry USA violated the university’s harassment policy as written in the Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct Policy.

The same policy states “the university will strive to do whatever it reasonably can to stop such behavior by persons outside the university community.”

According to the University Handbook, outside speakers not invited or sponsored by the university are restricted to the Free Speech Zone between the Orr Center and University Center.

The charge states the First Amendment right to free speech has its limitations, specifically that “persons cannot use speech to use language to provoke others into a hostile reaction,” known as the “fighting words” restriction.

A student quoted in the Senate charge said a preacher in December called female students “whores” and “fake women.”

“Since much of the group’s harassment is targeted at females on campus and is related to their sexuality, the university’s policy on sexual harassment is also violated,” the charge states.

The charge also addresses the possibility of faculty and staff being harassed by Campus Ministry USA, which then violates the “Equal Opportunity Statement” in the handbook stating the university will enforce a harassment-free workplace.

By the end of the discussion, most senators agreed the current university policy is strong but could use more specification. Individual senators will make recommendations to either Strupp or Strange this week and a final policy will be voted on at the next meeting Feb. 19.