A new policy for inviting speakers to the campus is set to be fully implemented by July 1, 2018. The policy, which aims “to maximize a healthy exchange of views in a safe and supportive environment,” requires faculty to provide St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) with advance notice of speakers.
This new policy has stirred controversy among students and faculty who are concerned about free speech issues that may arise if this “advanced notice” is used as an approval process to filter political ideas, but SMCM administrators argue this is not the goal of the policy.
“When speakers are invited, we get notified of who the speakers are so we can do an assessment beforehand of any safety measures or those types of things,” Dean of Students Leonard Brown told The Point News (TPN). “It’s not an approval process in the sense of ‘this person believes this political thing or says this’ and that’s why they can’t be here.”
However, faculty are concerned that the College’s administration could use this to limit the free exchange of ideas on campus. “If the intent is to improve communication, as they claim and as the policy was presented to the faculty senate, on such a small campus there are surely other ways to go about that,” a faculty member, who wished to remain anonymous, told TPN. “It sure looks like this policy would create the conditions for censorship, when they deem necessary.”
The concern for of censorship has long existed in academic spheres, and faculty from across the nation have been speaking out against potentially troublesome administrative policies.
The College’s administration insists that the new speaker policy is to increase communication, not to approve or disapprove of certain speakers. “It’s important to be concerned about censorship on campus,” Provost Michael Wick told TPN, “but the mechanism here is that there is no filter, it comes to my office and at the same time it’s put on the calendar. There’s no delay where we could try to filter anything, even if we wanted to… I have no interest in censoring anybody.”
Several incidents regarding AllStudent emails, as well as a new email policy that will go into effect July 1, have rekindled interest in controversies regarding privacy and censorship. After sending out an email advertising this semester’s Burlesque Show, Secretary Tara Vizzi, ‘19, was told that the email was not going to be sent because the phrase “The Official Twain Lecture Afterparty” was deemed inappropriate, despite the fact that the club had cleared the title of the show with Director of the Twain Lecture Series, Ben Click. The decision to ultimately send it was not made until minutes before tabling for the show ended. “We already know we don’t get enough support from the administration, and this is proof,” Vizzi said.
Many student club leaders believe that their emails have been blocked in the past for trivial reasons. Rebecca Ritter, former Zine Editor of Feminists United for Sexual Equality (FUSE), told TPN that after the 2016 elections, an AllStudent email describing the club’s position on the election results and listing resources for support was not sent out until the draft was changed to have less of a political message. The Office of Students Activities had cited the college technology agreement, which states that “both narrow self-interest and a concern for the needs of others dictate that you should limit use of your College email account to communication that is consistent with your official role at the College.”
Administrators told TPN that the college has no interest in censoring political ideas, and that allegations of censorship of political ideas are “not true.” The new email policy “is only really writing down what’s being practiced,” according to Wick. “The only real change is we’re getting rid of the AllStudent, AllFaculty, AllStaff email lists and instead using InsideSMCM.”
The draft of the new email policy can be found on the St. Mary’s Office of Information Technology website. The new policy for external speakers can be found on the events page of smcm.edu.