Coalition discusses free speech on campus

Sean Madigan

Robyn Hubbard challenged more than 40 students and staff members to clasp their hands over their mouths and shout a muffled “free speech” in an exercise to defend the First Amendment on Wednesday.
In reaction to a student fees lawsuit against the University and similar suits around the nation, a coalition of student organizations sponsored a discussion at the Bell Museum on ensuring universities’ rights to promote free speech.
“We as an institution have the responsibility to protect the marketplace of ideas that is out there,” said Hubbard, who works at the Center for Campus Free Speech in Washington, D.C.
“This is one of the fundamental debates in the higher education community,” Hubbard said. In recent years, 17 states, including Minnesota, have introduced legislation to limit speech practices on college campuses. None so far have been successful, Hubbard said.
Controls on freedom of speech would be detrimental to the campus environment, she said.
“What’s at stake? We could end up with a campus climate that is much more sterile,” Hubbard said. She advocated sponsoring events and getting involved in campus organizations as a means to gaining a voice on campus.
The Minnesota Student Association and the Disabled Student Cultural Center, with a coalition of 15 other campus organizations, sponsored the event.
MSA President Nikki Kubista has been calling for coalition forming to encourage grass-roots politicking since the start of her term.
“Everyone involved with Radio K to the St. Paul Student Center has a stake in what goes on here,” Kubista said of the ongoing student fees lawsuit.
A lawsuit against the University’s student fees system is challenging the University’s right to charge students mandatory fees that support certain student organizations. The suit specifically names La Raza Student Cultural Center, University YW and the Queer Student Cultural Center. A portion of the student fees collected are used to fund these and about 12 other campus organizations and services, including MSA.
Recently a similar student fees system at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court, which said individuals at the institution are forced to monetarily support political or social ideologies they might disagree with.
The University of Wisconsin argued it is their role as an institution to provide a platform for all ideologies. The University of Wisconsin is currently appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jason Ruiz, MSA chief of staff, said it’s the University’s responsibility to provide a forum for a myriad of ideologies.
“There are student organizations that I will probably never need access to, but I am glad they are there,” Ruiz said. “It is important for us to cultivate an awareness that these organizations are there.”
Although members of student organizations such as the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, the Disabled Student Cultural Center, Student Legal Services and Radio K comprised the majority of the audience, Andre Illig attended out of a genuine interest.
“I generally don’t care about specific organizations. But I think the system should be changed to pay for what you want to support,” Illig said.
Illig said he didn’t mind paying a mandatory fee, but would like the choice of appropriating a portion of the money to a specific organization.