ACLU of Virginia Asks Hampton University to Accommodate Student Free Speech on Campus
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Lawyer for Civil Liberties Group to Assist Students at Hearings Tomorrow
HAMPTON, VA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today sent a letter asking Hampton University officials to refrain from punishing seven students accused of violating school policies by distributing leaflets on campus. The letter recommends that the university revise its rules governing demonstrations and distribution of literature in order to ensure student free speech rights on campus.
“In a free society, universities, both public and private, play a critical role in protecting the marketplace of ideas,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “We fully understand that as a private school, Hampton University is not literally bound by the First Amendment, but it ought to do everything within reason to respect the spirit of free speech.”
“We not only hope that Hampton University will refrain from punishing these seven students, but that it will use this opportunity to revise its policies on free speech,” added Willis. “Hampton’s draconian campus speech rules are out of step with other universities.”
According to news reports, on November 2, seven Hampton University students associated with Amnesty International were part of a student walk-out and teach-in on the issues of New Orleans urban renewal, the AIDS crisis, homophobia, the prison industrial complex, the war in Iraq and the crisis in Sudan.
The primary action taken by students was to stand at the student center and hand out leaflets. Hampton University campus police shut down the event, videotaped the students involved and seized the ID cards of several students. The seven students are now facing disciplinary action for posting and distributing flyers, “cajoling” students and holding a campus activity.
Under Hampton University rules, all leaflets and other protest activities by students must be approved in advance. Even then, only recognized student groups qualify to receive permission to engage in such activities. Hampton University has refused to recognize an Amnesty International chapter, despite repeated attempts by students to establish the organization on campus.
The ACLU of Virginia’s Legal Director, Rebecca K. Glenberg, will advise the seven students prior to and at disciplinary hearings scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m.
The letter sent Willis to Hampton University officials follows.
December 1, 2005
Woodson H. Hopewell, Jr.
Dean of Men
Jewel B. Long
Dean of Women
Hampton, Virginia 23668
Dear Dean Hopewell and Dean Long:
I write in support of the seven students who are scheduled for disciplinary hearings this Friday, December 2. The ACLU of Virginia urges you to respect the principle of academic freedom by refraining from expelling or otherwise disciplining them.
It is my understanding that students at Hampton University have been seeking recognition for an Amnesty International chapter for at least four years. Every time they apply for recognition they are denied or are told that their application has been lost. As a consequence of the unrecognized status of their organization, the students were unable to receive authorization for the dissemination of information and other free speech activities, leading to the present charges against them.
As I do not need to tell you, open debate and ideological diversity are not only touchstones of a good education and a vibrant campus life, but also defining attributes of a free society. The ACLU of Virginia fully understands that as a private school Hampton University is not bound by the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, we support and encourage the widespread application of the spirit of the First Amendment beyond the boundaries of public institutions. This is especially true of colleges and universities, which from the beginning have served as our nation’s principal marketplaces for ideas.
I have attached for your review a copy of the Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students (www.aaup.org/statements/Redbook/Studentrights.htm), which has been endorsed by the American Association of University Administrators, the American Association of University Professors, and the Southern Association for College Student Affairs, among other groups. As that document observes, “Academic institutions exist for the transmission of knowledge, the pursuit of truth, the development of students, and the general well-being of society. Free inquiry and free expression are indispensable to the attainment of these goals.” As part of the freedom of expression, students “should be free to organize and join associations to promote their common interests,” and “should always be free to support causes by orderly means which do not disrupt the regular and essential operations of the institution.”
Accordingly, I ask that you not punish these students. Additionally, we recommend that Hampton University begin a process of altering its policies to give student expression its due respect.
I would also like to make you aware that ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg will be advising the seven students prior to and during the hearings tomorrow.
Hampton University’s motto is “The Standard of Excellence – An Education for Life.” In order to live up to this motto and maintain a standard of excellence, it is essential that the ideals of free association and free expression be not only tolerated, but wholeheartedly encouraged.
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