Capitol Alert

California assemblyman worries free expression under threat on college campuses

Candidate Kevin Kiley talks to the crowd during the 6th Assembly District Republican debate at the Timbercreek Lodge in Sun City on May 9, 2016.
Candidate Kevin Kiley talks to the crowd during the 6th Assembly District Republican debate at the Timbercreek Lodge in Sun City on May 9, 2016. Special to The Bee

What’s a new California assemblyman to do as one of his first official acts?

Perhaps lightly accuse the local college of infringing on students’ First Amendment rights.

In a press release sent Monday, a week after taking office, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, highlighted a recent report from an organization critical of campus policies that it believes violate constitutionally-protected freedom of speech and due process. The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education slapped nine public universities in California with its most severe “red light” rating for having a speech code that “unambiguously infringes on protected expression.”

“If they are to fulfill their full potential as centers of innovation and academic excellence, we must encourage a diversity of ideas and ensure differing viewpoints are protected,” Kiley said in a statement, promising to work with the universities to “promote diversity of thought, free expression, and an open exchange of ideas on our state’s college campuses.”

So how are these schools limiting free expression?

Sacramento State – one of three campuses that Kiley noted received “red lights” – was dinged by FIRE for its policies on student sexual misconduct, cyber bullying and harassment.

The latter, for example, includes ten categories of potential harassment including “Verbal, non-verbal, or physical abuse,” “Intimidation or humiliation based on personal or group differences” and “Unsolicited, deliberate or repeated sexually derogatory statements, or gestures.” FIRE did not elaborate on which of these it finds objectionable.

A spokesman for Kiley said in an e-mail that his “intention at this time is not to take issue with any particular policy at any particular university. Rather, it is to encourage California public universities to review the findings of the FIRE report and work to assure that their policies do not violate The First Amendment.”

He pointed to a statement on free speech from the University of Chicago as a positive alternative. That policy “guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn”; it also states that the “University may restrict expression that violates the law,” including that which “constitutes a genuine threat or harassment.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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