Test free speech on campus

Oswego State has managed to land its name in the news a few times in the last few months, mostly through lists. Most pressing of all lists, Oswego State was named as a top ten worst school for free speech in 2013 by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in a Huffington Post article. The ranking, as noted in this week’s “Freedom of Speech?” article, stems from the school’s treatment of Alex Myers in November 2012.

The Oswegonian editorial board has already expressed its viewpoint on the matter in an editorial the week the story occurred, so rehashing those beliefs is unnecessary. We view it as an extremely unfortunate incident where the school undoubtedly overstepped its bounds.

More difficult, though, is the idea of using the incident as a barometer for how free speech is treated on campus. The incident still carries frightening implications for what could happen to other students if they were to overstep their bounds and land in judicial’s sights. On the other hand, we’d like to view the university as a whole, not by its worst moment.

Aside from the incident with Myers, it’s hard to point to any events where the school has willfully denied a student free speech rights. On the contrary, martial arts protestors in September 2013 were allowed to peacefully demonstrate in the Quad and two years earlier, Occupy Oswego was carried out in the Quad with the full support of the school and University Police.

Could the school do more to present itself as a facilitator of free speech? Absolutely. They currently have a red ranking, indicating laws that interfere with free speech or expression, on FIRE’s yearly report. Seeing a green ranking would be a great sign for the school.

What was also striking in the conversations following FIRE’s ranking was the opinion from many students and staff that Oswego State students generally are not active in protests, demonstrations or other activities that would take advantage of First Amendment rights.

Student Association struggles to meet quorum, student slots on campus committees are left empty and other student forum events are generally low attended.

Before students take to Twitter or Facebook to call out the school for not respecting free speech, they should ask themselves if they do too. The school will have to spend the next couple of years rebuilding its reputation to prove that Oswego State is a university that has strong respect for free speech. Perhaps it will. The question is whether students will test the university along the way.