Tuscaloosa, Thursday, September 18: Opponents of the University of Alabama’s plan to impose a total ban on student dorm window displays declared victory today. Tom Strong, Dean of Students, told an overflow crowd that the administration had “indefinitely tabled” the measure, floated this summer and widely seen as an infringement of student rights. The crowd cheered, and Mallet professor-in-residence Rush White said that students’ freedom of speech had been protected.
The ASA supported the students, and called on the administration this summer to defend and protect freedom of speech on campus. We contacted our friends at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who, with us, published letters in the local and national media. We also worked with our student friends to mount a successful protest, including placing American flags in student windows.
It worked. The administration apparently decided that forcing the removal of American flags from students’ windows would not result in good public relations. No surprise there.
We would like to think that the administration changed its mind because of principle.Tom Strong, for one, impresses us as a conscientious individual. But we tend to think the administration responded out of simple self-interest, recognizing its assault on the Bill of Rights for what it was: a public relations disaster.
A final note: Dean Strong also announced that the University might declare the entire campus a free speech zone. At the moment, it recognizes only one, postage-stamp sized area (in front of Ferguson) as a place where people can exerise their constitutional rights. We hope Strong follows through.
We are pleased that the University’s administration realizes — at least in this one single instance — that it can get more mileage out of backing the Constitution of the United States than opposing it.