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University of Nebraska free speech policy draws criticism

March 26, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Two organizations criticized new University of Nebraska directives on free speech and draft proposals on campus free speech zones, saying they restrict expression.

University of Nebraska campuses were directed to develop policies that limit public forums to certain buildings and grounds after the Board of Regents approved a new free expression policy in January.

The Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska have opposed the board’s policy. AFCON said it places “unconstitutional restrictions” on what and where expression is considered free on campus.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln faced a challenge to free speech in August when a graduate student-lecturer made an obscene hand gesture and belittled a student recruiting for the archconservative Turning Point USA. The situation led to questions about whether the student was sitting in a free speech area while she distributed her information.

The incident, in part, led to the regents’ request for campuses to write regulations for buildings and grounds.

Retired professor Sam Walker said he plans to stage a protest against the proposed grounds and facilities policy April 9 at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

“It’s public property, it’s state property, it’s supported by tax dollars,” Walker said of the campus.

AFCON criticized a “tip sheet” distributed to University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty last month as being “unconstitutional speech code.”

The tip sheet was developed by the office of Executive Vice Chancellor Donde Plowman to assist lecturers and graduate students in handling difficult situations in the classroom, said a spokeswoman for UNL. It directs faculty to include “a safe and civil discourse statement” in each course’s syllabus. It also notes that students may be disciplined if their speech is deemed “abusive, harassing, intimidating or coercive.”

UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed said the policies aim to formalize practices that weren’t well articulated in the past. She said they hope to have the policies in place by early May.

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