Consequences of free speech suit

Consequences of free speech suit

No trial date or settlement has been determined for Shaw v. Burke, however that hasn’t prevented repercussions for Pierce College.

A preliminary hearing for the lawsuit filed by Pierce student Kevin Shaw, which states that the Free Speech Area is too small and the policies enforced are “arbitrary,” was cancelled. Whether the lawsuit goes to trial will be determined based on the legal briefs.

However, Pierce dealt with consequences and media attention regarding the freedom of speech case.

Pierce has gained national attention due to the lawsuit. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions mentioned the college by name during his speech about the First Amendment at Georgetown University.

In late October, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest supporting Shaw. Sessions states that the DOJ strives to protect Freedom of Speech on college campuses.  

The suit has also caused the Dennis and Anne Beaver Foundation to revoke the funding it provided to Pierce and LACCD students in the French programs.

Dennis Beaver, a Bakersfield-based attorney, said the foundation has been sending students to study abroad for more than 20 years, and for the last ten years, has sent Los Angeles Valley College and CSUN students to France.

He was hoping to extend the study abroad program in Paris to include a Pierce student, but after learning about the lawsuit, the foundation has decided to pause its funding to all of LACCD.

“What the administration of Pierce and the college district is doing is clearly unconstitutional,” Beaver said. “It does anything but encourage free speech. It is arbitrary. It allows faculty to decide who can talk and what they can say. This is galling. He was handing out copies of the Constitution for God’s sake.”

Beaver said that the program is not ending, but it is on hold. Should the district change it’s stance, the funding will resume.

“I don’t have a lot of respect for school administrators who act in such an arbitrary, unconstitutional and clearly illegal manner,” Beaver said. “You think that you would have college campus of over 400 acres and a free speech zone the size of two or three places. It’s crazy to have it in the first place.”  

On campus, faculty and staff were told by undisclosed persons to not discuss the lawsuit. Yeprem Davoodian, an assistant professor of communications, said that students and faculty should be able to express their opinions on campus.

“First Amendment rights are federally protected for faculty, students and the general public, for all civilians, and should be upheld on campus,” Davoodian said in a Roundup multimedia interview. “Free speech zones have been established because of incidents that may have caused a disturbance. But for free speech, you should be able to voice your opinion as long as it does not cause a disturbance.”