Arkansas Tech University expands free speech zones

Photo via Arkansas Tech University.

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Tech University's board of trustees unanimously has approved to expand designated areas for free speech to accommodate a growing student population.

Baswell Techionery's lawn, the student union, the steps of the Ross Pendergraft Library and the Technology Center can now be used for public speech and demonstration along with three previously established areas on campus, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Arkansas Tech spokesman Samuel Strasner said various student and non-student groups were already using that area for various events.

The university's campuses in Russellville and Ozark now have more than 12,000 students.
"More people need a little more space," Strasner said.

University attorney Thomas Pennington said the university's regulations on free speech are content-neutral.

The university attracted attention from members of the state Legislature in March when an LGBT student advocacy group hosted an event called "Sex on the Lawn." According to the group, the purpose of the event was to educate students about safe sex, taking into account different sexual orientations and gender identities.

Some legislators proposed stripping funding for the university's department of diversity and inclusion, because it was listed on the signage for the event.

Strasner said the legislators' concerns grew out of a misunderstanding because the department didn't sponsor the event. The department didn't lose any funding.

The board of trustees passed a resolution March 15, stating that neither the name nor logo of the department could be placed on any materials advertising a student event. The resolution also stated that any events the department sponsored would require approval from the board.

Strasner said the changes are part of ongoing evaluation of policy regarding student activities to ensure students can exercise their constitutional rights without getting in the way of the university's educational mission.

The Gayly - 8/19/2017 8:11 a.m. CST