Seattle Community College is right to scrap protest restrictions
Seattle Community Colleges is one of the most diverse two-year-college systems in the country. No way its students, many of whom fled countries where speech is hindered, would support limiting speech here.
Seattle Times Editorial
SEATTLE Community College leaders should have learned from their short-lived attempt to restrict protests on campus that limiting speech is not an easy thing to do.
The community-college district wanted to establish free-speech zones within each of the three campuses — North Seattle, Seattle Central and South Seattle — but its ham-handed rules ended up angering students and faculty. Chancellor Jill Wakefield smartly scrapped the plan for now.
The proposed rules had sought to limit protests to specific areas of the three campuses and to the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., require non-students to register with campus police 24 hours before a protest and restrict signs to one per protester with each no larger than 3 feet by 5 feet.
What was next, approving protest songs? Hey, Ho. Those proposed rules had to go.
There are valid reasons to regulate protests on campuses. The primary purpose of school is to learn; everything else is rightly balanced against that. But the constitutional right to free speech presents a high bar for interference that college officials failed to meet.
They argued unconvincingly that the rules were not in response to Occupy Seattle, which occupied Seattle Central for more than two months last fall before protesters were evicted. But it is hard to see how there isn't a connection between that debacle that got out of hand and the recently proposed rules.
To get rid of Occupy Seattle participants, the community college banned outdoor camping on its grounds. That was appropriate. But there's no need for rules that require campus security to measure protest signs or busy campus police with taking registrations from protesters.
Free speech and a strong learning environment are important values worth protecting. But SCC must do it in a more balanced way. No surprise, the proposed restrictions garnered almost zero support outside of the college officials who came up with the ideas.
Seattle's community-college system is one of the most diverse in the country. Its students, many of whom fled countries where speech is hindered, were right to object to limiting speech here.