Interpreting Free Speech At PCC
By Daniel Bloomfield
Portland Community College(PCC) states in its expressive conduct policy that it “fully supports open expression and freedom of speech by students and the public” and only diverts from its policy in specific cases.
In January 2020, a student was said to have reported offensive material that had been posted to the community poster board at PCC Cascade and in line with the exceptions listed on the expressive conduct policy, the posting was removed.
ASPCC representative Ashley Hansen said that they “allow all community postings as long as there is no hate speech, no nudity, no cursing and whatever else is defined in expressive conduct.” When asked how PCC defines its free speech policies Ashley explained that PCC is a public, state-run institution so it abides by state guidelines.
Oregon has a reputation for its expansive protection of free speech. The Oregon free speech law is thought to protect the right more broadly than the federal level, adopting the first amendment of the US Constitution but adding that “No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.”
Few exceptions are made that would bar freedom of speech and expression and some argue that such exceptions are too loosely defined to be enforced. Oregon free speech protection was further defined in 1982 during The State v Robertson in the Robertson Framework, by Oregon Supreme Court Justice Hans Linde, which is known for being written in a manner that remains open to interpretation. The document states that free speech can only be censored in cases where an existing law is being broken but does not clearly state what constitutes an existing law.
The ambiguity of such exceptions seems to be what gives PCC the ability to define them however they need in order to preserve security for its staff and students and usher a safe space and sanctuary. For example, in the expressive conduct policy it says that certain activities are prohibited in designated public forums such as destruction of school property and violation of its non-harassment policy.
There have been a few instances in the past year where PCC has had to cancel or shut down student events citing violations of its expressive conduct. In January 2019 PCC was forced to cancel a demonstration of the New Green Deal by the Democratic Socialists of America due to threats from right-wing organizations. The gathering was deemed to be a security threat and the decision was made by Public Safety.
In February 2019 a group of student activists was giving out ‘pot brownies’ (which did not contain cannabis) at PCC Sylvania to protest the war on drugs. They were asked to stop referring to their brownies as pot brownies and were told that they could do so at any other campus, but that Sylvania is held to a higher standard.
Although PCC has one expressive conduct policy, it seems that each campus has the freedom of discretion. Will PCC’s centralization prompt a sweeping expressive conduct policy consistent across all campuses?