Ingram: Free speech vital on university campus

At the conclusion of this semester, the construction envelope for the Student Center renovation and expansion project will include the area commonly referred to as the “free speech zone,” making it inaccessible.

I see this as an opportunity to revisit the policy on free speech rather than simply designating another zone on campus to replace the current one.

In fact, I met with UK administrators last semester to discuss this upcoming issue, and we plan to consider changes to the policy this semester.

I believe that one’s ability to speak freely should be at its strongest on a public university campus — a place where intellectual curiosity, personal growth and freedom of thought are inherent to the mission to educate and prepare students to be valuable members of society.

President Eli Capilouto shares my opinion that free speech plays a vital role in university life, as he said in a campus-­wide email, “college campuses are vibrant places for robust debate about the issues of the day, safely ensconced in the mantle of free speech.”

It is imperative that we maintain a commitment to promoting a campus environment that embraces our core values of diversity and inclusion — hateful and slurring language will never be acceptable in our community.

UK, like many other universities throughout the nation, utilizes time, place and manner of expression regulations in its policy on free speech.

This is done to ensure the actions of those utilizing their right to free speech do not impede upon the normal operation of the university.

For example, protesters are not allowed inside the classroom, as that would disrupt normal teaching and learning activity.

Similarly, demonstrators are not permitted to block campus sidewalks, impeding students as they travel to class.

While I believe that restricting free speech activities to a small, single zone is an outdated policy, some common ­sense regulations like those above must remain in place if we are to remain effective in providing an education for our students.

As we revisit the policy this semester, we must continue to work hard to ensure a safe and collegial community while affording everyone the opportunity to freely express their ideas.

This conversation goes beyond the abstract. It is an issue that affects the lives of students on a daily basis.

I look forward to advocating for pragmatic solutions as we continue discussions this spring.

Jake Ingram is the student body president.

Email [email protected]