Freedom of speech in academic settings


by James Tillison

Simpson College celebrated the 2013 Constitution Day with a lecture by Dr. Barbara Jones.
Constitution Day is a federally mandated event to take place the week of Sept. 17 every year. Schools taking federal funds are mandated to have an event or speech about the constitution.
Jones is the director of the office for intellectual freedom at the American Library Association in Chicago. Jones has worked on First Amendment issues for almost 40 years.
“I have studied it as an academic discipline, but I have also worked in libraries and seen what can happen when books or ideas are removed from libraries,” Jones said.
Jones’ main focus of her Constitution Day speech was the First Amendment, particularly the freedom of speech. All forms of communication accompany this specific right, and Jones also briefly focused on banned books.
She spoke of colleges and the freedom of speech that the students have all over the country.
“In 2010, the administration of South Western College in Chula Vista, Calif. got the award for having a free speech zone,” Jones said. “The free speech zone on this slide is that little patio in the middle; the rest of the campus does not have free speech. So this is what the problem was, this is an increasing problem. What about the classrooms? What about the rest of the campus? What about the library?”
In 2012, Sam Houston State University got a Muzzle Award for a bold decision by one professor, according to Jones. The Thomas Jefferson Center presents Muzzle Awards as an appreciation of free expression.
The Sam Houston State University professor decided to have a free speech wall, similar to the one Simpson enacted for Constitution Day in the last two years, and somebody used a certain expletive to describe President Obama. After seeing that, the same professor who established the wall demanded its removal. Jones used this as an example to show that free speech is more of what you want to see. Nothing on that wall, according to Jones, violated the United States
Constitution in terms of free speech.
Shane Cox, assistant professor of accounting and forum director, said Jones was asked to speak at the annual Constitution Day lecture to promote Simpson’s free speech environment.
“All these students, this is a time in their lives where they can really think outside of the box and have the ability to speak freely in an unthreatening atmosphere,” Cox said.
Cox said because Jones’ speech focused on civilities on campus, students and faculty should all have the right to speak freely. Her speech also tied into Banned Books Week, which takes place
from Sept. 22-28.

Freshman Tegan Jarchow attended Jones’ lecture for extra credit and found it interesting.


“I thought it was really interesting and a lot of the examples were a lot more radical than I was expecting. I didn’t realize so many campuses were infringing on people’s rights,” Jarchow said.


Jones told Simpson students, faculty and staff how one person can make a difference in the freedom of expression. She emphasized how everyone has the chance to speak up against the infringement on the First Amendment speaking rights.


“You can speak up when somebody tries to remove a book from a school library,” she said.