University officials ease rules for campus rallies

By The Associated Press
12.24.03

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Faced with a pending federal lawsuit, Southwest Missouri State University has loosened regulations on how protests, demonstrations and rallies can be held on campus.

School officials said the changes, which went into effect immediately after the Board of Governors' Dec. 19 meeting, merely refined old policies. The revisions will allow debates, rallies and demonstrations almost anywhere on campus.

Formal policy language is to be presented to the board next month.

"It was a clarification of language to get the language up to speed to what the practice has been. The language was not what we are doing," said Earle Doman, the university's dean of students and chairman of the advisory committee that recommended the changes.

The old policy required groups to register in advance if they planned to protest, demonstrate or hold any other kind of public forum. All such forums were to be confined to an area known as "The Bear Paw," on a plot of ground immediately north of the Plaster Student Union.

But exceptions had been allowed and the inconsistency of the policy had administrators looking into possible changes.

Some students and faculty said the policies were unconstitutional.

In late November, Ryan Cooper, president of the Young Americans for Freedom, challenged the policy in federal court.

Cooper's attorney, Kevin Theriot, said on Dec. 19 that he had seen the recommendations and that they were "a very positive development."

"This is not just a win for Ryan but for the students of SMS. The university is to be commended for their quick action and, I'm confident, will get matters worked out," Theriot said. "I would not characterize it as, 'We steamrolled them.'"

Theriot said he had held off serving the university with Cooper's lawsuit for 30 days until the university had a chance to change the policy.

Doman said the policy was being reconsidered before the lawsuit was threatened.