August 7, 2015
After months of work by a committee known as the Free Speech Task Force, the New Mexico State University Board of Regents recently approved a revised Freedom of Expression policy that will go into effect on Sept. 4.
The task force consisted of members jointly appointed by the chancellor and by representatives of students who claimed the university had violated their right to free speech. The jointly appointed members included university representatives from student government, faculty, Faculty Senate, Doña Ana Community College, NMSU Police Department, NMSU Office of General Counsel as well as members from the Las Cruces community, and student and attorney representatives for those who have exercised their First Amendment rights on campus.
“Despite the reason underlying the task force’s appointment, and the members having been appointed by two factions, the group readily focused on the task at hand and worked cohesively and diligently to research university policies to decide on the approach for the revision, and to draft the actual documents,” said NMSU Associate General Counsel Lisa Warren.
The group met regularly throughout the 2014 fall semester and hosted an open forum on Oct. 16 to gather feedback from the university community and the public. The policy draft was distributed to all policy advisory bodies on campus and further revisions were made in response to feedback obtained.
“We not only accomplished something, we worked together in an incredibly collegial way,” said Las Cruces attorney Peter Goodman, who represented a student who claimed his rights had been violated. “Although some members were appointed by the aggrieved students and some by the administration, a casual observer would have had trouble telling the difference, because we all wanted to protect freedom of expression without burdening NMSU with unnecessary restrictions or red tape. We were glad NMSU chose to make lemonade from lemons. Instead of wasting time and money in an acrimonious lawsuit, the two sides worked together to improve a policy that desperately needed improving.”
Revisions to the policy includes the expansion of areas identified as traditional public forums to include some indoor areas. The revised policy also defines the distinct types of forums and the corresponding content-neutral time, place and manner limitations which may be placed on expression within each type of forum.
The policy also provides a mechanism for any interested person, including students, employees or members of the public, to obtain guidance about how this policy will be applied or enforced in anticipation of a planned event and in order to avoid conflict.
“I believe the task force developed a revised policy statement that ensures ‘freedom of expression’ is clearly understood, respected, and supported across the NMSU campuses,” said Hiram L. Davis, a Las Cruces community member and former NMSU dean who was one the task force co-chairs.
For more information on NMSU’s policies, visit http://manual.nmsu.edu/current-nmsu-policies/