Column: Clearer guidelines on speech is good for the UMN campus

It’s a great time for us to have this conversation.

Taylor Sharp

Speech has flown around campus relatively unchecked by the administration this year, from my perspective. At first the concept of free speech offered nothing for me to counter.

But freedom isn’t free, folks, and alongside the realization of social movements there are “build the wall” panels — and there are vandalisms against “build the wall” panels. The current University policy on free speech is ambiguous and its weak foundation produces speech that, on one hand, could have unmet potential and, on the other hand, be reduced to curt and spiteful jabbering intended to be a gut punch.

But there’s greater discussion in mending the policy, and hopefully it will be smartened up through input from the Council of Graduate Students and others.

Bipartisanship has become inescapable, but sometimes, with new compromise, we lack discernible rules. People take advantage of vagueness by pushing their limits.

To combat this, a speech policy should be clear and fair. A shapeless wasteland without clearness to guide group-oriented speech has only continued to enable violence and distance reasonable people from actually trying to articulate their view.

In a time where personal stories and sympathy-laden convictions are audible, we ought to have a system that makes it convenient to rally, place ourselves on campus with clear purpose, and promote what matters to us.

An ideal policy should promote unity, but also outspokenness. If this hypothetical document existed, its role would be to equally encourage the best of all sides to construct thoughtful displays of speech and to allay them so that freedom stays unbound for anyone trying to get the word out.

Any confinement comes only from the notion that solid criteria will complicate the formulation of speech. A rulebook would aid students, enlivening free speech as well as fine-tuning it with humanitarianism and care, emboldening those already inspired to circulate their speech.

Don’t think of any boundaries as a one-way ticket to fewer options for saying what you want and how you want it. Rather, I think with clearer guidelines and organization, groups will have the strongest faculty possible to express everything they feel compelled to express.

While leaving freedom of speech undiminished, I think having rules also guides expression, so that it’s more meaningful than harmful.

A more explicit structure leads to a more productive network, in turn connecting elemental voices. Let’s encourage those driven mainly by hostility and the desire to hurt others away from those tendencies by using our speech productively.