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Amid campus free speech concerns, EMU broadens policy

Eastern Michigan University
F. Delventhal
Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM
EMU saw numerous protests last year after several instances of racist graffiti found spray-painted on university property.

Eastern Michigan University’s Board of Regents approved changes to the school’s free speech policy today. EMU General Counsel Gloria Hage recommended the changes at a time when colleges and universities in Michigan and around the country face the challenge of protecting free speech while also keeping campuses safe when controversial guests speak on campus.

Recent decisions by schools about whether to host controversial speakers like white supremacist Richard Spencer have stirred protests; and at least one lawsuit when an event request was denied.  

Hage says Eastern Michigan is committed to protecting free speech. She says the changes to the free speech policy were largely to keep the policy in line with current practice. The free speech policy hadn’t been updated since 2003 and, prior to the rule change, only encouraged EMU student groups to host events on campus. Though Hage says the school regularly allowed third parties, people with no university affiliation, to host events.

“The framework around campus free speech and campus protests has evolved since 2003 of course, and in the past couple years has evolved very rapidly,” Hage said. “Generally, our approach will be to find a way for [a] speaker to come to campus. The circumstances under which we would say no, a blanket no, would be limited.”

Check out the changes to the policy as approved by EMU regents here.

Hage says the free speech policy reflects Eastern Michigan’s principles and commitment to free expression, but there are numerous procedures in place for considering on-campus event requests on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s a broad free speech policy – and through our other procedures, those are designed to bring speakers to campus not to disallow them,” Hage said.

However, if an on-campus event request caused “identifiable safety and security” concerns, Hague says that would be reason enough for a denial. 

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