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University of Missouri holds forum on speech, protest policy recommendations

Issues on free speech and campus protesting filled an auditorium at the University of Missouri Tuesday afternoon.

MU interim chancellor Hank Foley led a campus-wide public forum Tuesday to discuss new recommendations on how public spaces should be regulated on campus.

Mizzou’s Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Protests, Public Spaces, Free Speech and the Press released the recommendations at the end of May. Foley said in an email inviting the public that they were charged with recommending them “in a way that protects safety, free inquiry, and free expression as well as to suggest how the university might resolve future conflicts concerning the use of public space on campus.”

The policyrecommendationsincorporate and clarify a number of existing rules and policies, but it also included a number of new policy recommendations.

It clarifies that camping is a prohibited form of protest and it also works to clarify where spontaneous protests may or may not take place or what place can be reserved for a protest or any free speech event.

For example, Carnahan Quad and Francis Qudrangle would be available for spontaneous events (if they weren’t reserved beforehand), but parking garages and anywhere adjacent to a health care facility would be off-limits.

MU journalism law professor Sandy Davidson told ABC 17 News the school needed to protect its rich history of protest on campus. Large protests took place against the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and a “shanty town” of temporary structures went up on Francis Quad in the late 1980s to push for divestment of University assets in South Africa. Any school restriction on protest or speech should for purposes of “time, place and manner” – a common rule on free speech and protests. Davidson said marches in the early morning hours or in spaces like the hospital lawn or healthcare emergency entrances could be reasonably denied or stopped. However, demonstrations should be generally allowed outdoors, and school officials should be “content neutral” in their judgement of what events can take place, meaning they should go on as long as rules of safety and school operation were followed.

“The default mode is ‘freedom of expression should occur,'” Davidson told ABC 17 News. “But, on the other hand, there can be reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.”

Attendees questioned the rules regarding camping, likening them to a knee jerk reaction to the protests of last year. The policies reaffirm staying overnight and in buildings past their closing time as wrong, and any tents or structures pinned to the ground would need approval. Members brought up similarities to football tailgaters staying overnight in campers or tents before games, and wondered if they, too, needed the same approval. Davidson admitted that the camping rules needed further review and public comment.

The committee was formed in January as a response to last fall’s camp out protest that occurred on Carnahan Quad on the university campus.

The policy also addresses photography, most likely in response to professor Melissa Click’s attempt to remove a photographer last fall who was taking pictures of the event.

The policy states that “when a person is in a public space, the person has a right to photograph anything that is in plain view.”

A second forum is scheduled for Sept. 19 from 3-4 p.m. in Memorial Union.

(Editor’s note, 8/31: This story has been updated with the latest information from the meeting, previously titled ‘University of Missouri to hold forum on new free speech policy recommendations.’)

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