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FROM the Nazis in Skokie to Hustler magazine's Larry Flynt to 2 Live Crew in Florida, it has been an unfortunate fact of American life that those on the ideological fringe end up having to fight society's First Amendment battles.
True to form, the founders of the Association Against Learning in the Absence of Religion and Morality (AALARM) have pointed out, in a recent letter to The Crimson, one of Harvard's most objectionable restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of association: the rules which reserve the "privilege" of putting up posters to student groups officially recognized by the office of the Dean of Students.
Among a myriad of little-known postering regulations in the Handbook for Students, the College notes that "Non-recognized groups must obtain prior permission of the Office of the Dean of Students and such permission will be granted only in exceptional cases." In the the past, these rules have been ignored with virtual impunity by everyone from Wellesley sororities and futon vendors to tenants seeking sub-letters. But when members of the then-unrecognized AALARM hung up posters on College property, their flyers were torn down by College officials and members were threatened with disciplinary action for violating the poster rules, according to E. Adam Webb '93 and Kenneth D. DeGiorgio '93, the group's founders. Other groups--including MIT-based fraternities--have also been singled out for administrative harassment.
Such selective enforcement is an obvious affront to any notions of freedom of expression. But even if they were fairly enforced, the rules prohibiting postering by unauthorized groups would be unacceptable. As the AALARM founders pointed out, student organizations cannot gain the administration's approval unless they have at least 10 members and two faculty advisors--including one tenured professor. What about a single person's ideas? Are they not entitled to an outlet? And what about groups so outlandish that faculty members refuse to associate with them? Should they, too, be silenced?
IF HARVARD officials don't want to lend University space to film-processing ads and credit card applications, some restrictions on commercial advertising might be in order. And if the campus becomes too cluttered with signs, Harvard could even restrict the use of campus postering sites to Harvard students.
But Harvard should be ashamed of suppressing students' speech in one of the few outlets available to all students. Kiosks and bulletin boards should be available to all students, regardless of their ideology and regardless of whether they are part of an officially recognized organization.
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