Editorial: ASA amendment harmful to free speech

Freedom of speech is something that we, The Augustana Mirror, depend upon as journalists.

A presumed right to freedom of speech allows us to collect information on an otherwise private campus. The right to speak and seek information freely allows us to publish articles without prior approval from administration and allows us to use university resources, like the Buzz Book email database, to find contact information for students, faculty and administrators.

Freedom of speech allows us to send The Mirror Compact to your inbox each Friday morning to provide updates on campus issues.

But for some student organizations, this freedom no longer exists.

According to an amendment recently added to the Augustana Student Association (ASA) constitution, student organizations funded by ASA are no longer allowed to send mass emails to the student body and are required to include an “unsubscribe” option. If these organizations continue to send emails, despite the new amendment’s requirements, their funding for the subsequent year can be cut by up to 15 percent.

John Walker, a sophomore ASA senator, told The Augustana Mirror in an email that he “wrote the amendment as a way to ensure student privacy” after hearing student concerns about receiving emails they didn’t sign up for, whether that be at an event or the annual student activities fair.

But the information that’s inherently made available for use by university students and staff through an internal network isn’t considered private for individuals.

Perhaps more importantly, information that’s considered public, for all intents and purposes, can’t suddenly be considered private when individuals don’t like receiving emails from a particular group on campus.

However, Augustana is a private university. This means that access to information can be stalled at almost any time, Board of Trustees meetings can be kept behind closed doors and rights — of just about any kind that would be constitutionally protected in the public sphere — can be taken away without just cause.

While some ASA members may argue this to be reason enough to end mass emails, this threatens the protections available for all kinds of speech — both good and bad.

Communication in all forms — whether that be by email, flyer or newspaper — is vital to keep the marketplace of ideas alive and well on college campuses, especially on one that purports freedom of association, inquiry and expression in its Student Code of Conduct.

Freedom of speech allows these ideas to play out: whether that manifest in Augie Green holding a climate strike outside the Morrison Commons, The Augustana Mirror printing 800 newspapers five times each semester or Turning Point USA sending emails to the entire student body.

If we expect protection for what we perceive to be the best forms of speech on campus, we must also protect what we perceive to be the worst. And if we don’t agree with the speech as expressed, we have the freedom to walk away, recycle or click delete.

Once again, ASA: It’s time to revise your constitution — but this time, with freedom of speech in mind.

  1. Jeffrey S. Miller Avatar
    Jeffrey S. Miller

    Way to go, Rebekah and team! More of these, please!

  2. I have to disagree with the opinions stated in this editorial. An amendment of this nature is not infringing on First Amendment rights and does in fact have legal precedent in the United States.

    Ever wonder why you don’t receive a million emails in your inbox advertising products and organizations you never signed up for? That would be the result of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. According to ftc.gov, the CAN-SPAM Act covers, “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.” While this technically may or may not apply to student organizations, (I’m no lawyer, so no, I don’t know the technical, nitty gritty portions of the law), the message of the law is clear: People have a right to not receive unsolicited advertisements in their emails. In addition, the CAN-SPAM Act also includes the right to opt-out of emails you do not wish to receive in the future. All emails, write the FTC, “…must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future.” Simply allowing any student organization the ability to email all students whenever they wish is a clear violation of this opt-out right.

    Students opted out of an organization’s emails by not signing up for them in the first place. There is plenty of opportunity to be in contact with a student organization if you want to receive such emails. I have not opted in to receive Turning Point USA’s emails advertising their events; therefore I do not want to receive them in my inbox. I wish for that right to be respected. ASA was well within their rights to put such an amendment in place.

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