In the past couple of years I’ve talked a few times about the code of conduct at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. It’s pretty strict. Smoking and drinking are not allowed. Neither is coffee. Pre-marital relations are frowned upon, but post-marital relations are fine with everybody. There’s no chewing tobacco on the ballfield, no swearing on or off the ballfield and a whole lot of encouragement to listen to your conscience and do the right thing.
That’s BYU. Is it different at other colleges in Utah? Not completely. Utah State, tonight’s opponent for the Boise State Broncos, has a reasonably-strict code of conduct, in that you can be dismissed from school for using inappropriate words or foul language.
Just three days ago on campus, a number of students decided to protest that rule as a violation of American free speech. They did so using a giant beach ball. Nine feet across.
A group of students calling themselves “Aggies for Liberty” inflated the ball and handed out Sharpies so students could express themselves any way they chose.
The first student to take part wrote “Have faith” on the ball. The second wrote “I hate vegans”. The third wrote “F- Trump”, but wrote out the full word that starts with “f”. I won’t use the full word here, because the Federal Communications Commission ruled a long time ago that a radio station and a beach ball are not the same thing. Also, it only took three more students before someone wrote “F- Hillary” underneath “F- Trump”.
Aggies for Liberty says it’s a student political organization that works to promote individual rights. Sara Prawitt, a senior studying communicative disorders, wrote on the ball, “It’s important that we have a right to have and share our opinions.”
Jessica Barber, a junior studying landscape architecture, wrote, “This is a safe environment.” Her friend Tonya Randall, who also studies landscape architecture, handed back the Sharpie and said, “I don’t have a comment.” When asked why she didn’t just write “I don’t have a comment” on the beach ball, Tonya replied, “I also don’t like to waste time.”
The free speech ball activity was designed to raise students’ awareness of the rights that are guaranteed them by the First Amendment. Ian Nemelka, the president of Aggies for Liberty, said that awareness comes in conjunction with some likely changes to the university student conduct code that were first proposed by Aggies for Liberty.
Emily Orr, the club’s vice-president, says some of those changes will have to do with what she calls “arbitrary language”. Orr says that one part of the code states that students must conduct themselves with civility and dignity. Potentially, she says, you could be thrown out of school for saying something perfectly normal to another person that that other person finds uncivil.
The adjustments proposed would make it so that failing to conduct oneself with civility on campus is no longer punishable. Orr says that since Utah State is a public university, university officials can’t control the behavior of students without restrictions of their own. As such, she says, those parts of the conduct code will be changed to “behavioral suggestions” instead of commands.
Nemelka said he was alerted to the problems by a group called FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which rates schools on their compliance with the First Amendment, giving them ratings of either green, yellow or red. Utah State was given the same red rating as the University of Utah. BYU wasn’t rated, since it’s a private institution.
A representative of FIRE has told Utah State that its rating will be changed from red to yellow if the speech guildelines are altered. However, it can only achieve a green rating if and when the university chooses to amend its sexual misconduct codes as well. Those codes currently go beyond avoiding unwanted advances and activities by also prohibiting most wanted or consensual advances and activities.
I have just two personal observations about all of this. One, when Utah State blew out the Broncos last season at Maverik Field in Logan, there were hundreds of Boise State fans who were guilty of violating the campus rules regarding civil language and actions. I even violated them while sitting in my living room in Boise.
And two, without injecting my own politics into it, I should point out that it’s somehow appropriate to express your opinions of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton by doing so on a giant bag of air.