Grambling Under FIRE from Free Speech Advocates

October 6, 2010

University's broad prohibitions on email may be unconstitutional

NEW ORLEANS – Grambling State University is in a dispute over its prohibition of “disruptive or offensive” emails, which includes bans on all “joke emails” and offensive comments regarding “hair color.” These intrusions, along with prohibitions on political and religious discourse, have caught the ire of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, which have called for an immediate renunciation of the policy and denounced it as illegal.

The university’s approach to policing emails first gained attention with a July 13th mandate that students delete and “DO NOT FORWARD” all “political campaign solicitations,” as these would be considered a “violation of university and state policy.” Subsequently, FIRE challenged the constitutionality of the policy and described it as an inaccurate representation of Louisiana law and a “threat to freedom of expression.” FIRE director Adam Kissel called for its termination with a September 1st letter letter to the university president, Frank Progue.

Rather than back down, on September 22nd Progue and the university came out with an even broader set of prohibitions. As she released the policy to the public, Grambling’s director of public relations, Vanessa Littleton, however, asserted that the university “does not prohibit students or employees from political expression,” The policy read as follows:

“Grambling State University email system shall not to be used for the creation or distribution of any disruptive or offensive messages, including offensive comments about race, gender, hair color, disabilities, age, sexual orientation, pornography, religious beliefs and practice, political beliefs, or national origin… Sending chain letters or joke emails from a Grambling State University email account is prohibited.”

The ACLU of Louisiana and FIRE responded that day and described Grambling’s response as “insufficient.”

“GSU’s response, rather than addressing our concerns, greatly magnifies them… [It] fails to retract or even acknowledge the prohibition on core political expression announced in its July 13 email to all students… A public university may not broadly deny its students the right to engage in such basic political speech… The policy cannot stand.”

Click here to read the full article and to listen to and interview with the director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Fergus Hodgson is the Capitol Bureau Reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted at fhodgson@pelicaninstitute.org, and one can follow him on twitter.

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