A review of free speech policies on Saddleback College’s campus

Activist for same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana, Randy Shimizu, is asked to obtain a permit to petition on campus by chief of police, Christopher Wilkinson, at Saddleback College. The campus had  Senior Day for incoming prospective high school students on March 20, 2014. (Kimberly Johnston)

Activist for same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana, Randy Shimizu, is asked to obtain a permit to petition on campus by chief of police, Christopher Wilkinson, at Saddleback College. The campus had Senior Day for incoming prospective high school students on March 20, 2014. (Kimberly Johnston)

Two vendors collecting signatures for same-sex marriage and the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana were asked to leave Saddleback College last March, on Senior Day, an event held for prospective high school students.

The vendors, who were not Saddleback students, were identified as Tony Wilson and Randy Shimizu. They had initially set up a table in the Student Services Quad along several other vendors.

Leslie Humphrey, director of outreach, asked Wilson and Shimizu to petition on another part of the campus. Subsequently, they moved to the other side of the Library Drive bridge.

“I heard that people had complained [about the vendors’ content] but there was no decisions made on the complaints,” said Saddleback College President Tod Burnett.

Burnett said the vendors were moved in order to help them get signatures.

“The library is where students were – where people that could actually sign the petition were,” Burnett said. “High school students can’t sign the petition, they’re under voting age, and so they wouldn’t count for the petition.”

Christopher Wilkinson, chief of campus police, asked the vendors to obtain a permit from the Facilities, Maintenance and Operations (FMO) building.

Wilkinson said that the board policy requires a permit and a spot on the Master Calender to “be a vendor here today.”

“That’s all we’re asking them to do,” Wilkinson said.

Vendors Tony Wilson and Randy Shimizu collect signatures for same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana on Senior Day at Saddleback College. The two men were asked cover their signs by chief of campus police, Christopher Wilkinson, shortly before being denied a permit to petition on campus. (Kimberly Johnston)

Vendors Tony Wilson and Randy Shimizu collect signatures for same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana on Senior Day at Saddleback College. The two men were asked cover their signs by chief of campus police, Christopher Wilkinson, shortly before being denied a permit to petition on campus. (Kimberly Johnston)

Wilson went to the FMO building to obtain a permit but was denied after Sandra Camarena, an assistant of the Outreach Department, instructed FMO to do so.

“Today is a special event,” Camarena said. “They’re welcome to come back to the ‘free-speech area’ any other day, except for today…. no outside vendors allowed today.”

Camarena was not authorized to ask Wilson and Shimizu to leave.

“The vendors were denied a permit because it was Senior Day,” said Jennie McCue, director of public information and marketing.

McCue said that the vendors needed to get approval that permitted them to use the space in the Quad.

“It’s the board policy,” McCue said.

There are misconceptions as to what the rule is in on “permits” on campus.

Humphrey said that there is no permit needed, but it is required to request a spot on the Master Calendar through FMO. Humphrey also said that the process to reserve a spot, at the time, was unclear for anyone that might want to.

The director of FMO, John Ozurovich, declined to comment on the matter.

Board of Trustees

South Orange County Community College District (SOCCCD) is governed a board of trustees. The board sets goals, reviews plans and makes policies. They decide “why” and “what” will be a part of the policy, i.e., the broad or big picture.

For example, SOCCCD’s Board Policy BP 8000 covers neutrality (remaining neutral in viewpoint), who the policy applies to (students and members of the general public), and free-speech areas.

The president of the board, i.e., president of the college, implements the policies. This is what is referred to as the “administration.” Administrative Regulation AP 8000 determines exact locations for speech and advocacy.

AP 8000 Board and President

Burnett said the areas for free speech are in the Quad and 25 feet from the Student Services Building.

Juan Avalos, Vice President for Student Services, said the reason for this policy is to make sure Saddleback has the ability to coordinate multiple uses of limited space.

“On that day [Senior Day], we had a lot of different functions happening,” Avalos said. “This is intended so that we can have all of those things occur in a way that’s not disruptive… this always airs on the side of giving the college and the district flexibility to find a way to have both things occur.”

SOCCCD declined to comment on the incident.

Shimizu said that he was exercising his freedom of speech in a “public access area.” He pulled out a copy of U.S. District Court case Roberts V. Harrigan, in which a federal judge struck down “free-speech zones,” ruling unconstitutional a requirement that designated areas of speech for students.

“Colleges are considered public access areas, meaning that anyone is free to come and go,” Shimizu said. “Protected free speech is allowed in public areas, so the college is not allowed to designate a ‘free-speech area.’ It’s the same principles as if you were just walking over there [on campus] talking about politics. That’s protected free speech.”

Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein said that a “free-speech zone” is an unconstitutional way of censoring everything else–an inverse censorship zone.

“It’s a prudence that’s universally struck down but college’s keep doing it,” Goldstein said. “Any policy regulating protected speech activities in public based upon the content of speech requires strict scrutiny.”

Sued in the Past

SOCCCD was sued in 2002 for a speech code violation. The plaintiff, Pourya Khademi, challenged the District for regulating the time, place and manner of speech and advocacy on campus.

The Court ruled “a number of provisions in Board Policy 8000 violate Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.”

“In my opinion it actually helps free speech when you have a more designated, identified area,” Burnett said.

Further discussion will take place in the future to consider “a particular area in the quad” that will be designated as “the free-speech area” Burnett said.

“We as an institution are neutral, we do not condone, promote or stifle any free speech activity,” Burnett said. “We welcome anybody.”

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