The Rules of Engagement
According to ORS 341.290 (4), PCC (and any other public college or university) has the legal right and obligation to “control use of and access to the grounds, buildings, books, equipment and other property of the district.” To this end, the college requires anyone using college facilities, indoor or outdoor, to complete an Space Use Application and User Agreement. In addition to this, applicants must read and acknowledge the college’s Facility Use Rules and Procedures as well as the Expressive Conduct Policy so that the college can ensure that persons and organizations understand the rules of the road.
The rules for use of indoor spaces are fairly well-defined but, according to Dr. Heather Lang, when it comes to outdoor spaces the rules are looser.
“the framing around [expressive conduct] is that there has been increasing case law in the country that is trying to assure that freedom of expression or that expressive conduct is allowed at public colleges and public universities. So the guidelines were created, a number of years ago now, in response to updating [sic] what was happening nationally in terms of making sure that we as an institution are allowing folks to come onto our public spaces and engage in expressive conduct and engage in free speech and to assure that we are only monitoring time, place, and manner of that free speech expression but that we are not looking at content.”
What this translates to is that PCC’s role in monitoring the expression of individuals and organisations is such that it is content-neutral. This allows people to use this public forum to express whatever opinion they might have, so long as they follow the rules for time, place, and manner to avoid interruption of the business of the college.
“as long as individuals are not blocking entries, are not in spaces we have reserved for our instructional and college programming, which are [mostly] highlighted and lined out in the policy, as long as they are not obstructing any of that or causing disruption, petitioners can actually be in different places outside of our building. But if they want to come inside then they are offered a table and chairs.”
How this fits into the realm of hate-speech is up for debate, however, PCC’s Non-Discrimination and Non-Harrassment Policy sets guidelines for the safeguarding of protected classes, albeit in vague terms.
“Management and staff will be held accountable to take reasonable action to maintain work sections and educational environments free of conduct that causes, or reasonably could be considered to cause intimidation, hostility, discrimination, or retaliation.”
Does this mean that PCC management and staff are responsible for protecting stakeholders on campus from being offended? That’s certainly a hard case to make. But what is the college’s responsibility to its stakeholders when the harmful speech of an individual or organization violates the college’s policies for space use and expressive conduct, or if said entities bend or break the law in order to express their opinions?
Ballot Access LLC., the organization that pays its petitioners to gather signatures for ballot initiatives and which sent representatives to PCC Sylvania on January 22-23 and again in March, was registered as a business in Oregon by Lee J. Vasche. Vasche has ties to Oregonians for Immigration Reform, an organization whose Chief Petitioner and former Vice President Rick LaMountain derided PCC and called for the denial of public funds to the college, mainly for its role as a sanctuary college. This same organization held a meeting on February 17, 2018 in which Vasche explained “how his PAID signature gatherers enhance our initiative efforts and increase the likelihood of success.” [emphasis added by OFIR]
The Bridge was not present at the meeting in question, however, when Dr. Lang encountered the petitioners who returned to PCC in March she warned them against misrepresenting their petitions otherwise they would be in violation of the college’s Expressive Conduct Policy. When questioned about their intentions for the day they informed her that,
“they were no longer collecting signatures for that petition, that they had stopped doing that at PCC and they were collecting for others and they said that they heard me and they acknowledged that they needed to be careful about being up front.”
Dr. Lang denied checking the petitioners’ paperwork that day, however, no more complaints were received by the Scheduling Office about Ballot Access. When asked whether she asked if they had been trained to operate in a misleading way, Dr Lang stated,
“They did not say ‘we’ve been trained to operate that way’, but […] one of the petitioners said he’d been doing this a long time and he understood what I was saying.”
It stands to reason that a petitioner that has “been doing this a long time” would know that the penalty for misrepresenting the intent of a petition carries a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and up to $125,000 in fines. When asked about it, PCC administrative officials seemed uninformed on the matter. Officials were all aware of the recently passed resolution by the PCC Board of Directors to establish the college as a sanctuary college. Dr. Lang even committed to “take this forward and engage our campus president in a conversation about this” to discuss further action. She candidly stated,
“ I think it would be very consistent for us to speak out as an institution against anything that would be in conflict with our statement of the College being a sanctuary institution […] Me personally. And I’ll follow back up and talk to you about what our reporting obligations may be to the Secretary of State [regarding expunging the signatures gathered on January 22-23].”
Time will tell if the college’s resolution will translate to action or if it will merely decorate the handbooks gathering dust in the shelves and dustbins of our campuses.