Viewpoints

The Tribune got it wrong. Cal Poly embraces free speech, regardless of content

Watch Cal Poly students protest against Raytheon

Watch five Cal Poly students protest against Raytheon at a Campus Career fair. Raytheon, a university donor, produces military weaponry.
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Watch five Cal Poly students protest against Raytheon at a Campus Career fair. Raytheon, a university donor, produces military weaponry.

I was disappointed to read The Tribune’s recent article and editorial regarding protesters at Cal Poly’s career fair last October.

Unfortunately, The Tribune failed to accurately report the facts surrounding the incident and, as a result, mischaracterized the situation and misled its readers.

The Tribune’s editorial supports protest actions that could be violations of university policy and could take away potential employment options from talented Cal Poly students. Promoting such behavior could unintentionally send a signal that Cal Poly is not a good place to recruit students — and nothing could be further from reality.

Cal Poly’s Career Services, which coordinates the career fairs, creates programs and services that help students develop career-related skills to be successful in life. It aids all Cal Poly students in the pursuit of their career aspirations, cultivates a diverse group of employers to assist in developing the employees of the future and provides guidance for the career services staff who work daily with students.

At Cal Poly, we embrace free speech and support individuals who want to express their opinions on any issue. However, educational events such as the career fair must maintain an environment that allows the employers from all industries to recruit students without disruption from others.

The Tribune suggests the university enforces its free speech policies differently, depending upon what protesters are saying. That is not accurate.

The university’s policies focus on when and how protesters express their opinions and whether or not that expression in turn restricts the rights of other campus community members — for example, students who are attending a career fair in order to connect with employers.

On this subject, the First Amendment is clear: Universities have the authority to create regulations that provide the time, place and manner for free speech activities and to implement restrictions so that protests do not disrupt the educationally purposeful activities of the university.

Cal Poly has such policies and is well within its authority to enforce them when protesters’ actions impinge on the rights of other campus community members. More importantly, these policies are content-neutral. Regardless of their message, protestors are not allowed to disrupt an event.

They are guaranteed the right to protest — typically outside a venue, where their voices can be heard but the educational activity or event is not disrupted. The university is also well within its authority to meet with and communicate with students who may have violated these policies, in order to discuss appropriate behavior and hold students accountable.

This is often done with the purpose of educating students who may have technically violated policies but were unaware that they did so. Our focus is on student education and prevention of policy violations so we can avoid sanctions. When the university meets with a student as part of an investigation process, whether or not that student is being held accountable, the university always uses the opportunity to clarify its policies and explain how a specific behavior impacts the community, so that all parties are on the same page.

Cal Poly supports the rights of students to protest — as it did last spring when students chose to protest against racially insensitive incidents on campus. Similarly, the university would support those who choose to protest the career fairs, provided those students are in compliance with the university’s time, place and manner policy and do not infringe upon the rights of other students and companies participating in the career fair event.

Keith Humphrey is vice president of student affairs at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

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