Just last month, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed into law legislation establishing an Oklahoma Free Speech Committee to examine speech codes at all state universities. House Bill 3453 charges that committee with four primary duties:
- Review the free-speech policies of Oklahoma public universities
- Review any complaints of censorship filed with the committee
- Review university training on free speech for improvements
- Make recommendations to the universities on improvements to free-speech policies and training
Laura Beltz, senior program officer for policy reform at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), offers this advice: "If you're an Oklahoma university right now, it's probably good to take a look and make sure you don't have restrictive speech codes … on the books before the Free Speech Committee comes calling."
One of those that needs to do some self-examination, she explains, is Northwestern Oklahoma State University, which FIRE recently called out for what appears to be a contradictory student speech policy. While the university's student handbook states students can distribute flyers spontaneously, another section says students promoting a "cause" must have prior permission to do so.
Beltz argues that such a policy violates the free-speech rights of the students on the Alva campus.
"Students who are doing any sort of handing out of political flyers for a particular cause will need to go through the administration first," she says, summarizing the policy. "That's an impermissible restriction on their free-speech rights."
Northwestern State, says Beltz, needs to take this opportunity to revise its "Campus Solicitations" policy soon – and FIRE stands ready to assist if needed, she adds.