Linn-Benton Community College is updating its freedom of expression guidelines to create one umbrella policy containing administrative rules to cover a variety of situations.
The college's board of education had a look at the new comprehensive policy on Wednesday, but members said they need more details — particularly on how existing policies would be affected — before voting on it.
Bruce Clemetsen, vice president of student affairs, said the policy update wasn't spurred by any specific incidents, such as a controversial exhibit currently on display in the college's art gallery.
Instead, he said, it came about because college officials have gone to conferences and talked with several free speech advocate groups in recent months. Each time, he said, the college came away hearing it might be liable for problems because of its varied free expression policies, some of which might be outdated or in conflict with one another.
LBCC also wants to have a centralized location where someone looking to, say, how to hold a rally or bring in a potentially controversial speaker can go for information, Clemetsen said.
The proposed overall policy states, "LBCC and the LBCC Board of Education believe that freedom of expression is essential to the fulfillment of our mission, values, and goals. The purpose of this policy is to affirm and guide our deep commitment to free expression."
However, President Greg Hamann reminded the board Wednesday, the Supreme Court has upheld colleges' rights to govern the time, place and manner of rallies, speakers, demonstrations and similar events, to make sure they don't cause safety concerns or interfere with classes.
That's where the new administrative rules come in — with 13 pages in the draft so far, he said.
"We're trying to anticipate every possible kind of incident," Hamann said.
Clemetsen said the draft rules may be available for review in a couple of months.
He reminded board members the rules will help the college be "more deliberate about defining how different forms of expression are carried out on campus," but stressed the rules must be "content neutral" and applied consistently regardless of what the speech contains.
Hamann stressed a different set of free expression rules comes into play when talking about an instructor's right to academic freedom.
The controversial art exhibit is an example. The current show contains three works that depict men performing sex acts, which prompted complaints from some residents.
The college moved the artwork away from the main gallery door and placed signs warning of explicit content, but did not remove the images.
Board member Keith Frome questioned that decision Wednesday, saying because the exhibit is open to the public, it's the college's responsibility to protect children who might view the works.
But Hamann said the artwork, as part of a gallery show under the college's art department, falls under the category of how faculty choose to use expression as a means of teaching.
An instructor's ability to make such decisions is covered by a college policy called "The Study of Controversial Issues," Hamann said.
That policy, along with the rest of the college's guidelines on free expression, is being reviewed for potential updates, language tweaks or inclusion under the new comprehensive policy being discussed.
"We need clear policies in this area, and we're working to do that," Hamann said. However, he added: "I support the faculty's need to be able to touch on issues that are sometimes hard for us to deal with."