Obstacles to freedoms on campus are unnecessary
Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, March 2, 2005
Given President Bush’s forthcoming visit to campus this Friday, and coupled with the recent controversy in our post-Sept. 11 world concerning freedoms and civil liberties, it is striking to me that we, as a University, still maintain policies which seem to be unnecessary and quite regressive with respects to student rights to conduct demonstrations, to circulate questionnaires and surveys and to hang-up and/or distribute advertisements, posters or other forms of announcements. As individuals studying to better both the good of the world and of our immediate community here at Notre Dame, we need to ask ourselves certain questions. Do these policies repress the exchange of information and ideas or do they further them? Do they allow for appropriate and uninhibited flow of thoughts amongst students, or do they hinder such flows? Do they allow for and encourage a true liberal-arts educational experience, or do they send mixed-messages about what our goal is as an elite, Catholic educational institution?
It is my personal opinion, and the opinion of many in our community whom I have spoken with, that the policies outlined in DuLac do in fact suppress certain freedoms and liberties that we should all have as students of a university.
Flip to page 125 of your always-handy 2004-2005 edition of DuLac, read the entire section entitled “Student Activities Policies” (it is only 12 pages in length) and see for yourself just what I and many others are concerned and perplexed about. For instance, according to the rules put forth here, “All students, groups of students or student organizations wishing to distribute a questionnaire or initiate a survey are required to request permission from the Vice President for Student Affairs” by submitting a copy of the questionnaire or survey with a written explanation of the project’s purpose. Why? Why is it necessary to get permission from a University official for something so basic and unobtrusive in nature?
There’s more. According to the regulations outlined in DuLac, students must register all “demonstrations” on campus with the Associate Vice President for Residence Life. Why? Since the term “demonstration” is not defined, is any type of assembly at all to be considered a “demonstration?” For example, because of this regulation, students wishing to protest Bush’s visit to campus here this Friday technically must register with the Associate Vice President of ResLife. Or, students wishing to show solidarity against the VDay festivities, no matter how small their assembly, must technically register as well. Why is that necessary? If a “demonstration” is conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner, why, at a university, a center of information exchange and academic intrigue, must such an assembly of equally-minded individuals be registered with university officials? It seems to me that in this case, as in many of these cases, we as a community are acting prior to anything controversial actually taking place – in a way, we are attempting to keep controversy from occurring. This seems like a dangerous thing to do in a setting where we should be encouraging, not hampering, the free flow of ideas across all lines in our community.
There are other elements of this section in DuLac which stick out in a similar manner – for example, the section on “Advertising, Posters and Announcements of Activities,” which requires all posters hung-up on campus to be approved by Student Activities. As a compromise, what if we had “free speech” areas on campus, policed by students, and allowing for the free advertisement of ideas, announcements, postings by unrecognized or newly-forming groups, etc.?
All of this may seem unimportant to you, it may not seem like a problem to you, maybe you just do not think that the regulations can actually be changed or maybe you just do not care that you “may be sent to the Office of ResLife for violating these regulations” (Pg. 125, DuLac). However, to many, and hopefully to many others whom I do not yet know of here at Notre Dame, there is something greater at work here. Even at a private institution such as Notre Dame, individuals should still be guaranteed reasonable rights and freedoms. This may sound lofty, but why shouldn’t we be? After all, if we are going to be one of the nation’s premiere academic institutions and concurrently one of the world’s most elite Catholic centers of learning, then how can we possibly maintain such policies as the ones outlined above? To me it seems impossible, and I am interested to know – what do you think?