It is fairly clear that it is in the University’s best interest to maintain control of student rights. For the most part, there are no issues, since the University and the students do not clash often enough to make headlines–and when they do, very few people will say anything. But in response to the Westboro Baptist Church protests and various other free speech violations, various members of the ASSU tried to codify campus free speech laws to ensure their protection at the end of Winter quarter…and were forcefully shut down, replete with a letter from President Hennessy’s office essentially telling students that they have no authority and should not even try to pass any meaningful legislation.
From the letter:
The ASSU has no authority to legislate on behalf of the University and this amendment will not be accepted by the University if passed […] In the very rare instances in which the University permits a limitation of its authority through the ASSU, it is only after significant consultation with VPSA.
Continue reading for more and the full letter:
The bill itself was relatively straightforward. Having reviewed it multiple times, I feel confident in saying that the bill was at least a step in the right direction, but the administration clearly has no interest in allowing any student rights that they cannot control.
Free speech, in particular, has been an issue at Stanford: Stanford itself was the subject of a 1995 Supreme Court, Corry v. Stanford. More recently, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)–the leading free-speech group related to colleges and universities–gave Stanford a Red Light rating for free speech, which is the lowest grade a school can get.
The letter (in full below) is particularly disconcerting. While many people believe/understand that the ASSU does very little, it is one of the student body’s only methods of protecting its freedoms. The office of the President is, therefore, essentially nullifying any student power to preserve our own rights–which will certainly become an issue if the University ever has any reason to disagree with its students. And the likelihood of this is almost inherently certain: the University, from its macro, detached perspective, can certainly view some larger issues more knowledgeably than the students; however, this perspective can also lead to very ill-conceived ideas because of the lack of a more intimate, micro point of view.
In my opinion, the rejection of the free speech bill itself is not too disconcerting, but Hennessy’s office’s response is: if the University is actively pressuring the students–perhaps, one could interpret, threatening–to ensure students have limited power, students’ rights are very much at risk.
The full letter, with passages that reference specific students omitted:
President Hennessy and I thought it would be useful to provide all of you with our thinking about the proposed amendment before your forthcoming discussion.
We believe that the proposed constitutional amendment goes beyond ASSU’s sphere of influence. Frankly, we are disappointed to see that this amendment is being discussed by ASSU and GCC prior to the benefit of further discussion with the University. The ASSU has no authority to legislate on behalf of the University and this amendment will not be accepted by the University if passed.
In the very rare instances in which the University permits a limitation of its authority through the ASSU, it is only after significant consultation with VPSA who have worked collaboratively with the ASSU. Here we have a rush to push something through with insufficient collaboration. It is not prudent for the ASSU to pass such a significant and wide-ranging amendment in haste nor for the University to approve it.
As is common practice, the President expects students to work collaboratively with VPSA on constitutional amendments. I would like you to suggest that you set up a meeting with Nanci Howe and Chris Griffith to discuss this matter further.
No one is benefitted if the University rejects the amendment and a divide is created on this issue. We hope this clarifies our thinking on this matter.