I was in Ann Arbor the other day and I grabbed an issue of The Michigan Review, the student journal of conservative and libertarian thought (and my favorite choice for bus ride reading material when I was at school there). Apparently, there's a bit of a free speech controversy going on at the University of Michigan and student publications on campus are (rightly) up in arms.
According to the LSA college (the college of literature, science and arts) there's too much "clutter" in the buildings on campus from all of the publications that are distributed there. Basically, students pick up free issues of The Daily, or the Review, or whatever, that are in bins and stacks around the hallways of the buildings, read them while waiting for lecture to start, and then throw them away, or else just leave them on a desk or on the floor. It can be pretty gross when there's a bunch of old Dailies strewn about the floor of your classroom, but honestly, it was never that much, and I usually would pick one up to read, since it would be left there so conveniently, and then throw it away later, so there's at least one piece of litter out of the way. But I guess for the precious Felix Unger's of the college of LSA, the sight of some papers on the floor is too much to bear.
Old newspapers on the floor isn't the only "clutter" the college is concerned about, though. They also contend that there are too many bins and stacks of papers in the hallways and that these are disrupting the flow of the hallways and cluttering things up and I guess they're a safety hazard or something. Seeing as I was just on campus, walking around the hallways of Angell Hall, this is patently ridiculous. It's true, I graduated more years ago than I would care to admit (*cough*2003*cough*), but it was as "bad" then as it supposedly is now, and that's: Not very. Seriously, it's nothing. It's stacks of newspapers and leaflets along the walls. Plenty of room in between. Maybe there are other more immaculate, more spacious college hallways elsewhere in the country, but as far as I'm concerned, the LSA buildings look like a normal school.
Anyway, as I understand it, the college wants to start restricting publications from distributing on campus, basically making the determine of which publications make the cut and which don't, as well as putting restrictions on when and where the approved publications can put out their issues. I think it's pretty clear that once a college or university starts making determinations over which student publications can and cannot be distributed on campus, it's a serious threat to the future of free speech at that school. It's assumed that The Daily, the main student-run paper of the school (i.e.: the liberal rag) will make the cut, but even they will be limited as to where they can put their paper, and when they can put issues out (I guess there's something in the proposal that would prohibit publications from being displayed between April 14 and September 15, which would mean that the Daily can forget their summer issue). Other publications, especially smaller, less established ones, would no doubt be left out in the cold once the LSA and MSA (Michigan Student Assembly) and whoever else gets to decide make the decision over who can distribute and who's just annoying, useless "clutter." Paranoid right-winger that I am, I have a sneaking suspicion that a paper like the Review might just be one for the "clutter" bin. And even if they're not, it's still a stupid, useless move by the college that will limit the speech rights of the students.
It's all ridiculous and phoney baloney. But that's my alma mater! I think our motto is Artes, Scientia, Ineptia. Take a look at the Review's coverage for more.