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Lone Star College Clarifies that Free Speech Is Permitted Outside Free Speech Zones – September 2018

Tomball, TX

On June 6, 2018, Lone Star College uploaded maps to its website after announcing its new “Free Speech Zones” policy. The maps indicated where on each of the school’s six campuses “Free Speech Zones” are designated. When a student called to see whether Free Speech would be protected outside of these zones, campus administrators evaded the question until public outcry prompted an answer, which was a revised “Speech and Conduct on College Premises” policy adopted by the Board of Trustees three months later.

Key Players

Lone Star College is a community college system in Texas, which has six campuses, all serving the North Houston metropolitan area; this incident occurred on the Tomball campus. Students and free speech activist groups criticized the college for its vague free speech policy, which, according to Campus Reform, protected freedom of thought, but did not mention freedom of speech outright.

Campus Reform is an online news source that describes itself as “a watchdog to the nation’s higher education system,” and was rated as having a “right bias” by a media fact-checking group.

Quade Lancaster is a student at Lone Star College, who was demoted from his position as student council president. Lancaster took the demotion as an attack on his First Amendment rights, because it occurred after administrators learned of a conversation he had with other student government members, in which he voiced support for the Second Amendment in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, Florida. Over the following months, he would push Lone Star College to revisit and revise its Free Speech policy.

Further Details

In early March 2018, Quade Lancaster expressed support for the Second Amendment in a conversation with fellow student government officials, but referred to his peers’ counter-arguments as “bullshit,” according to his account in Campus Reform. Subsequently, Shannon Marino, program manager for Lone Star College and the administrator responsible for student government, demoted Lancaster on the grounds of his use of profanity.  But Lancaster claimed he was demoted for his unpopular conservative views, since the students with whom he conversed had “dropped F-bombs” throughout the conversation.

When the college uploaded maps to its website on June 6 to accompany its new Free Speech Zone initiative, Lancaster contacted administrators multiple times to clarify where exactly Free Speech would be safeguarded on campus, but got no response. Although Lone Star’s policy says it protects “free speech rights” and the “free exchange of ideas,” the maps seemed to imply that only in those designated areas  would Free Speech be honored; Lancaster wanted to know if students were allowed to express themselves freely throughout the campus.  Campus Reform reached out to college officials and to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which helped pressure the administration to clarify Lone Star’s Free Speech policy.

On September 6, 2018, the Board of Trustees approved a new “Speech and Conduct on College Premises” policy. It said:: “All persons are permitted to engage in speech activities in Free Speech Zones. Designation of certain locations as Free Speech Zone does not diminish students’ or employees’ right of speech or expression on other premises.”

Outcome

FIRE lauds Lone Star College’s Policy Clarification

In a statement to Campus Reform, FIRE praised Lone Star College’s clarified policy on Free Speech. Lancaster expressed satisfaction with the change, but said he believed that the administration delayed taking action on the issue and should have had a better policy to begin with.

External References

Lone Star College Policy on Speech and Conduct on College Premises.

Lone Star College – Tomball Free Speech Zone Map.

College clarifies free speech zone policy amid mounting pressure, Campus Reform

Student claims he was punished for supporting gun rights, Campus Reform

School commits to ‘freedom of thought,’ but not speech, Campus Reform

Texas college touts confusing ‘free speech zone’ policy, Campus Reform

College hangs up on student asking about free speech policy, Campus Reform

 

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Date uploaded to tracker October 9, 2018