Op-Ed: The ASSU tries to chill free speech


This past week, the ASSU debated a bill authored by the Director of Academic Freedom, Zintis Inde, that would force every student club to include a mandatory 120-word statement on all advertisements for their event. A paragraph-long statement may have to be included in every email, flyer and Facebook post regarding a speaker your club brings in the future, if this bill passes. If a club forgets to include the statement just four times over the span of two years, it could receive a “one year ban on funding,” according to an early draft of the bill. The statement itself is pretty basic: it notes that the ASSU does not necessarily endorse the speakers it funds, while simultaneously supports the value of free speech in campus dialogue. Even if we set aside for the moment the ethics of compelling groups to include this lengthy statement, one must question the necessity of the requirement itself.

Surely the ASSU must know that Stanford students are aware of the fact that not every speaker who comes to campus expresses the views of the ASSU. It is an insult to our intelligence for the ASSU to assume that we must be reminded of this every time we see a flyer or read an email about an invited speaker. If ASSU senators are truly so concerned about what speaking events mean for their future careers, I heartily encourage them to make as many personal statements as they want to explain that funding an event does not mean endorsing it. If they think this statement is so important, they should pass a resolution making this statement the official position of the ASSU regarding all invited speakers.

The bill has since changed to delegate to a committee the job of figuring out the details, such as the “appropriate consequences” for groups “found to have violated the requirement.” This committee, which will have no oversight and little transparency, will essentially be able to decide how every club on campus will be able to bring speakers and what consequences will take place if a club stumbles while trying to navigate complex and arbitrary requirements. Never before has the ASSU had this much power over clubs.

And finally, circling back to the morality of this, the true issue of this debate, this bill’s very existence is borderline Orwellian. If in order to speak, we must first say what the ASSU wants us to say, that cannot be considered free speech. And giving full discretion on policing this proposed policy to a committee operating behind closed doors is horrifying to even think of. Regardless of your views on speakers that have come to Stanford in the past, this bill is wrong. It will place a huge burden on all students and the clubs at Stanford. The simple fact of the matter is that this bill is on the wrong side of history. It is our duty as Stanford students to remind our senators that they don’t have to stand there with it.

— Tristin Rice ’22

Contact Tristin Rice at tric1121 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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