FIRE, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education took the University of Missouri-Kansas City to task because it appeared the school was blocking students’ spontaneous free speech.
One problem: When asked about the restrictive policy FIRE had highlighted, UMKC officials said it hadn’t been the school’s policy since 2015. But the policy had inadvertently been left in the university’s student handbook.
John Martellaro, UMKC spokesman, said Tuesday that “some confusion may exist because we discovered today that an older web page with the discontinued policy that should have been deleted is still live. We are working to fix that problem.”
FIRE is a nearly 20-year-old nonprofit watchdog group based in Philadelphia and focused on civil liberties at colleges and universities.
Officials at FIRE said the old UMKC policy was on the university website as of Monday, when they checked and rated the school on free speech. FIRE gave UMKC its lowest grade on the allowance of free speech on campus.
That rating was based on UMKC’s outdated policy, which said all campus demonstrations and rallies had to be registered with the university at least 10 working days in advance.
FIRE said that policy presented an “extreme waiting period,” and would make “spontaneous expressive activities on campus impossible.”
More common, but not ideal, FIRE says, is for universities and colleges to require a two- or three-day advance notification about a planned student demonstration or rally.
Under its new policy, based on the Missouri Campus Free Expression Act signed into law in 2015, UMKC has no wait time for demonstrations and students do not have to register a rally or protest in advance with the university.
“Students must be able to engage in demonstrations and other types of expression in response to unfolding events both on campus and in the world around them,” said Samantha Harris, vice president of policy research at FIRE. “We would consider a waiting period of any length to be troubling for this reason...”
The University of Missouri campus in Columbia also does not require students to wait and register protests with the university administration, said Christian Basi, an MU spokesman. Kansas State University also said it does not have a wait time or registration requirement. The University of Kansas did not respond to an email asking about its policy.
The UMKC policy was selected from the FIRE database of roughly 450 colleges and university policies, and highlighted as one that needs attention, Harris said. FIRE has been drawing attention to policies that restrict free speech for about a decade.
About half the universities marked by FIRE as having restrictive or unconstitutional free speech policies ultimately have revised their policy to make it right, Harris said.
As for UMKC, Harris said, “I’m glad it was an outdated policy and that they will be taking it down. This is a great resolution.” She said that as soon as UMKC makes the change, FIRE will change their rating.