The voice of De Anza since 1967.

De Anza students: Fight to keep your free speech rights

November 30, 2015

De Anza College administration is proposing a set of “Social Media Guidelines” that would seriously abridge students’ First Amendment rights to free speech and faculty’s right to academic freedom. La Voz opposes the guidelines because they are unlawful and unneeded.

A faculty committee of the Academic Senate is reviewing the guidelines, which also cover instructional use of social media. The faculty senate at Foothill has already passed the guidelines, according to an email from Marisa Spatafore, De Anza’s associate vice president of communications.

The guidelines include practical suggestions for “best practices” which we support.

What concerns us is the college’s attempt to limit student organizations’ speech by requiring them to get preapproval for external social media profiles, apps or websites by the “Director of Communications or her/his designee.” The guidelines also state that the college “may require removal of content or profiles that do not adhere to these guidelines.”

Spatafore said it is “the college’s responsibility to proactively address, insofar as possible, the legitimate social media concerns that can arise with content provided by a college-affiliated group, or one just claiming to be.” The guidelines go too far by including such words as “must” and “are not permitted” referring to new rules that are not legally enforceable.

The guidelines would require each student organization’s social media accounts to include two college employees as administrators with the right to remove content. That requirement is “the most clearly unlawful of the Guidelines,” according to a response from Student Press Law Center attorney Frank LoMonte.

La Voz had sent a copy of the proposed guidelines to the Student Press Law Center, a Washington, D.C., non-profit dedicated to upholding college and high school students’ rights to free speech and press. The current draft of the guidelines do not explicitly exclude La Voz student media as a student run First Amendment publication. Spatafore clarified that the guidelines do not pertain to La Voz because it is a separate entity from the college, and the exclusion will be stated in the next draft.

LoMonte wrote that under California’s Leonard Law, a college cannot punish a student for speech that a government could not punish in the off-campus world, where “very little short of threats of violence, obscenity or incitement of panic is punishable by government sanction.” Hateful and extreme speech is protected under the First Amendment.

In other words, student clubs and other organizations are free to create and maintain social media accounts, apps and websites without seeking permission or input from college staff.

Subjecting student organizations’ social media accounts college control “speaks to the overwrought and hysterical response of educational institutions across the country to social media,” LoMonte wrote. “Institutions are routinely attempting to impose controls on social media that would be regarded as laughably unconstitutional if proposed in any other context.”

Student organizations such as clubs at De Anza were not contacted directly for input on the guidelines, although the DASB Senate has representatives on the De Anza’s Academic Senate.

We urge students, staff and faculty to read the “Social Media Guidelines,” and let the college know that you oppose limits to your freedom of speech.

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