Policy bans groups papering freshmen

The rule preventing leaflets may run afoul of groups’ First Amendment rights.

by Allison Wickler

As most first-year students experience information overload during the first days of school, the information from one type of source will temporarily stop flowing.

The Student Unions & Activities office notified all University student groups that handing out fliers will be prohibited on Northrop, Riverbend and Coffman Plazas, as well as on Northrop Mall, during convocation today, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law Jane Kirtley said she believes the policy is questionable because it restricts the right to free speech provided by the First Amendment.

“You really have to look at it with a close eye and ask yourself Ö ‘What is the compelling interest that the University is articulating to justify these restrictions?’ ” she said.

However, Assistant Director for Student Activities Megan Sweet said the policy was also effective in previous years and doesn’t apply only to convocation, but in any outdoor area reserved for a specific activity.

The policy, effective as of March 2000, allows students to hand out literature with regard to reasonable restrictions on time, place and manner of the distribution, she said.

Sweet said it’s useful in this case to efficiently move the 5,000 students who attend convocation from Northrop to Coffman without obstruction from student group members.

“We provide (student groups) with information on the front side so that they don’t get into trouble,” she said.

However, Kirtley said the University could risk sending the wrong message to first-year students.

“Are they essentially trying to say Ö that this is just an isolated community where everybody kind of gets along and nobody with conflicting viewpoints ever expresses those views?” she said.

Sweet said she has never received a complaint about the policy from student groups.

Gil Schwartz, campaign coordinator for Compassionate Action for Animals at the University, said he respects the University’s policy to keep groups away from convocation because it still provides other opportunities to connect with students, such as hosting Student Activities Fairs.

While first-year sociology student Victoria Dutcher isn’t sure which student groups she’ll be joining, she said not all student groups were highly publicized or even represented at orientation.

Though the policy will likely remain in place, director of Orientation & First-year Programs Beth Lingren Clark said groups will have more opportunities to promote themselves during next school year’s welcome week, which will let first-year students move in earlier to adjust to college living.