Monday, March 23, 2009
C.A. Rejects Free Speech Challenge to College Internet Policy
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A community college’s policy limiting library computer use to educational and employment purposes did not violate state law guaranteeing undergraduates’ free speech rights on campus, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Three Friday ordered publication of an opinion in which it rejected 58-year-old Saddleback College student Patrick Crosby’s appeal from an Orange Superior Court ruling denying his bid to eliminate all restrictions on Internet use.
Crosby brought his challenge after the school put a hold on his records preventing him from registering for classes over two altercations at the Mission Viejo school’s library.
In the first altercation, Crosby was detained by a campus police officer who told him it was “inappropriate,” given his age, to be accessing member profiles on social networking website MySpace.com at the library. The officer, Crosby said, told him the site was “for kids,” and that Crosby could look at it in the privacy of his own home, if he wished.
Three weeks later, Crosby was similarly detained over an argument with a librarian who had told him to turn down the music to which he was listening on library-supplied headphones.
Crosby allegedly initially dared administrators to suspend him in response to warnings he would face negative consequences if he failed to meet with them to discuss the incidents. However, he eventually met with the school’s vice-president of student services, Lise Telson, who agreed to give him a “fresh start” without imposing discipline.
Crosby then filed suit, alleging the school’s policy restricting students’ Internet use to “appropriate academic, professional institutional purposes” violated Education Code Sec. 66301.
The statute prohibits a state college or university from disciplining a student for on-campus conduct that the First Amendment free speech clause would protect if the conduct had occurred off-campus.
Orange Superior Court Judge Robert J. Moss agreed with Crosby that the policy was overbroad on its face and violated the statute by leaving to the district the determination of what was “appropriate.”
Moss entered judgment requiring the district to amend the policy, but Crosby appealed, asserting that Sec. 66301 provided him the same free speech rights on campus guaranteed to him at his home. He contended the trial court’s judgment did not go far enough, and argued Moss should have eliminated all restrictions on Internet use or invalidated a district regulation based on the policy.
But Justice Richard M. Aronson, noting that it is “beyond dispute free speech rights off campus are not unfettered,” wrote that the trial court’s judgment sufficiently addressed any asserted conflict with Sec. 66301.
“[Crosby’s] interpretation not only disregards the plain language of the statute, but would lead to absurd results,” he said. “For example, a student could not be sanctioned for standing up in the middle of a lecture and yelling expletives.”
Instead, Aronson opined, Internet use in school libraries is neither a traditional nor a designated public form, and the school—“like any other governmental entity”—could reserve a particular form for its intended purposes so log as the regulation on speech was reasonable and not an effort to suppress expression contrary to the views of school officials.
In the unpublished portion of the opinion, the justice also rejected Crosby’s appeals on efforts to amend his complaint and to compel production of witnesses and documents. He further declined to consider whether Sec. 66300—authorizing state colleges to create disciplinary rules for students—was unconstitutional because Crosby raised the issue for the first time on appeal.
Justices William F. Rylaarsdam and Kathleen O’Leary joined Aronson in his opinion.
The case is Crosby v. South Orange County Community College District, 09 S.O.S. 1748.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company