On April 18, the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) hosted a meeting to discuss proposed Student Code changes, including that of the student speech code. Pomona College’s Housing and Residence Life Deans Ric Townes and Christopher Waugh were present to answer students’ questions. Pomona’s administration proposed amendments earlier this month to the code; if passed, the amended code would be implemented in the fall semester.
The proposed changes were sent out to all Pomona students on April 10, and appears to adopt a more favorable position on free speech, stating that “[t]he Pomona College student body believes that free speech is critical to Pomona’s mission as an educational institution, and therefore, the norm is that speech and other forms of expression are protected.” The document goes on to list four exceptions—harassment, fighting words, incitement of imminent lawless action, and “true threat”—that would be potential policy violations; those exceptions are generally not considered to be protected by the First Amendment.
However, there was an additional clause added, reading that “[i]n addition, the College may reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the College.”
At the meeting, an Independent staffer expressed concerns about potential ambiguity of the clause, asking Townes what constitutes “reasonable” and “ordinary activities.”
Townes replied by arguing that “if students are occupying a space and preventing, either physically or verbally, normal procedures such as classes, office work and so on from taking place, that would probably be a violation.” Townes also suggested that such a clause wasn’t designed to target speech itself, but rather the logistical problems of physically “occupying a Dean’s office in a protest,” thus impeding important activities related to running the college itself. In previous years, students have protested numerously against the administration.
One student pointed out that “there’s actually very little wiggle room for speech codes because of Federal Law,” which in addition to California state law, compels academic institutions to abide by the First Amendment in their speech codes.
Another student remarked that “The University of Chicago, a school well known for its free speech, actually has a clause like this in their student manual.” The clause is, in fact, identical to Pomona’s proposed new clause.
One graduate from the University of Chicago who heard about Pomona’s proposed changes told the Independent, on condition of anonymity, that he was “glad to see UChicago’s speech code inspire so many universities,” adding that upon its implementation at his school the “campus discourse undoubtedly improved.” The alum also remarked that the pro-free expression speech code seemed to reduce the prevalence of “fistfights between alumni and protesters to civil, if spirited, disagreement.”
As previously noted by the Independent, “Claremont McKenna College—which alongside Pomona is a member of the Claremont Colleges Consortium—is the only Claremont College with a “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) indicating little restrictions of free speech. Pomona, along with the other Claremont Colleges—Harvey Mudd, Scripps, and Pitzer Colleges—currently have “yellow light” rating, indicating noticeable restrictions on free speech. Last semester, in an interview with Hinkson, the Independent asked whether Pomona would consider changing speech codes to gain a green light rating from FIRE.”
The proposed speech code, as well as other changes to Pomona’s student code, are open for the college community to comment on up to May 10, when the final decisions will be discussed by the college administration.