Code red to code yellow: University of Hawaii-Manoa updates its policies to earn a better free speech rating
by Kelsey Carroll, Washington Examiner, March 27, 2018
The University of Hawaii at Manoa, a public college in Honolulu, Hawaii, just received a higher free speech rating from the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) after reforming their outdated policies on their website.
The University of Hawaii at Manoa had a red light rating, but has been updated to a yellow light.
According to FIRE, “a red light institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A ‘clear’ restriction is one that unambiguously infringes on what is or should be protected expression.” A yellow light institution “is one whose policies restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression.”
This change started in 2014, when the University of Hawaii school system was sued for their restrictive free speech policies. Two students were told that they could not pass out copies of the U.S. Constitution because they were outside of the designated “free speech zone.” The lawsuit was settled and changes regarding free speech and assembly policies were to be implemented system-wide.
Apparently the University of Hawaii at Manoa didn’t get the memo because, until recently, their speech policy contradicted the system-wide speech policy implemented in 2014.
The administrative policy that was in question at UH Manoa designated the Campus Center Courtyard as the public forum area where individuals could assemble and engage in public speech activities. This area was the only designated place on campus that students could freely exercise their First Amendment rights.
The system-wide policy, on the other hand, states that “University of Hawaii is committed to the free and open exchange of ideas and affirms the rights of members of the university community to engage in speech and other expressive activity guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution of the State of Hawaii.”
When Red Alert Politics reached out to the University of Hawaii about its inconsistent policies, the school’s spokesperson said they were unaware of outdated policies remaining on their website. Daniel Meisenzahl, the school's spokesman and communications director, called the speech policy change “one of the many balls that are up in the air for the University of Hawaii right now,” but apologized, saying, “there’s no excuse.”
“I would say with great confidence that the system policy is the one that’s in place and also if we were asked by students they would be referred to the system policy,” Meisenzahl told Red Alert Politics. Despite this, UH Manoa kept an old, speech-restricting policy on the books for four years after the system-wide change.
Since Red Alert Politics first contacted the UH Manoa, the contradicting policy has been taken down. They said via email that they are now following the 2014 revised policies.
"It's been nearly 4 years since Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Hawaii at Hilo won their lawsuit banning free speech zones on campus,” YAL’s director of free speech Alexander Staudt told Red Alert Politics. “What I don't understand is why UHM has taken so long to replace the policies on the website."
Despite the delayed policy change, FIRE has upgraded UH Manoa’s rating to a yellow light since it is now in compliance with the system-wide policy.
“UH Manoa previously earned FIRE's worst, ‘red light’ rating for maintaining this restrictive free speech zone policy. After the university system let us know that the policy had been removed, we were able to improve UH Manoa's overall rating to a ‘yellow light’ rating,” Laura Beltz, FIRE's senior program officer of policy reform, told Red Alert Politics. “The spokesperson explained that the 2002 free speech zone policy should have been removed in 2014 following the adoption of the system-wide policy on demonstrations, but was left up in error.”