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4/20 at CU: University on possible lawsuit to block campus closure and more

While speaking about CU-Boulder's plan to close the campus again on April 20 in an effort to end the 4/20 event there, spokesman Bronson Hilliard stressed the need to communicate clearly about the university's rationale, and he wasn't kidding. After we published posts about a threatened lawsuit to block the plan and a chat with a student leader who opposes the closure, Hilliard called to reiterate, tweak and/or expand upon prior statements or respond to comments that may strike others as utterly noncontroversial.

Let's take the topics one at a time, shall we?

The Possible Lawsuit:

Rob Corry.
Rob Corry.

In our Wednesday post, we reported that attorney Rob Corry and possible plaintiff Rob Smoke had floated the possibility of taking court action to stop CU-Boulder from closing the campus on grounds pertaining to free speech and expression related to political protest. "Personally, I don't view it as them stopping someone's party, even if the media wants to paint that picture," Smoke wrote via Facebook. "Myself, others, have had friends die in prison on an MJ sentence. 4/20 is a global protest/political event for reform, but also against imprisonment. Social action -- gathering for redress -- is essential in a free society and guaranteed under the Constitution."

The item pointed out that Corry, with Smoke as a plaintiff, had taken this same tack last year, but a judge sided with CU-Boulder. Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime friend of yours truly) stresses the university's confidence that it would prevail again should another complaint be filed.

"The university feels like it's on pretty strong legal grounds, and not just because of the decision last year by the Boulder court," he says. "In general, there is no First Amendment right to come onto the campus' property to engage in something that's prevented by both Amendment 64 and federal law," meaning smoking marijuana in public. "So we feel like we're on strong footing. We think Pat O'Rourke and John Sleeman" -- the attorneys who handled the case last year -- "made a compelling argument that the university's grounds are a limited public forum."

For example, he goes on, "They don't meet the same public-forum standards as a park. And the court ruled that the university can take reasonable measures to protect its mission of research and teaching."

Continue for more CU-Boulder responses about the plan to close campus on April 20.

The ACLU's criticism

Judd Golden, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union's Boulder chapter, has formally asked the university to reconsider closing the campus. In a statement, he writes that "past gatherings on April 20 have included speech about marijuana laws and policy, and peaceful civil disobedience." And, in his view, "What is also at stake is the fundamental civil liberty of people to be in public places and not have to show identification or explain yourself to authorities when you are not suspected of wrongdoing."

"I understand Judd's concerns," Hilliard allows. "I know where he's coming from. But I feel like the university's commitment to the exchange of ideas is lived out every day in our classrooms. The one place you don't need to worry about debate going on is CU-Boulder. But we're saying, 'This is something we see as a huge distraction and obstacle to the university's work, and one day a year, it's worth asking people to show their IDs to get on campus.'

"We don't think that's a censorial activity. The university has sponsored debates on drug laws in the days leading up to 4/20," including one a few years ago sponsored by NORML. "So we think that spirit of discussion is still alive and well on campus."

Golden's statement also maintains that "the mission of a public university should include tolerance and accommodation for peaceful demonstrations, rallies and First Amendment expressive political activity." The implication? If CU-Boulder feels justified in closing the campus to stop 4/20, it could do so again for other reasons, thereby moving that much further down a slippery slope.

Not gonna happen, Hilliard emphasizes. "An awful lot of thought has gone into this, and the slippery slope was debated and discussed. We've made it very clear that these are special considerations where we essentially inherit a crowd for something we don't think is about free speech or the free exchange of ideas. We've discussed this at the highest levels -- with the chancellor, with the 4/20 working group, with our attorneys. If anyone thinks this is a backward, reactionary, not-well-thought-out procedure, it's not. We've debated this, thought this over, worked all the different angles, and arrived at what we feel is a tough but necessary decision."

Continue for more CU-Boulder responses about the plan to close campus on April 20.

The student government comments:

Yesterday, we published an interview with Brittni Hernandez, CU-Boulder student body president and tri-executive with Colorado University Student Government, or CUSG. (Disclosure number two: My twin daughters are members of CUSG.) Hernandez spoke in positive terms about the interactions between the administration and student leaders on the subject of 4/20, as did Hilliard in a previous interview. However, she said CUSG as a whole disagreed with closing the campus and asking that students present IDs in order to gain access to the grounds.

Among the reasons for opposing IDs mentioned by Hernandez was the possibility that for some LGBTQ students, "their gender presentation doesn't match their ID," and having their identity questioned by police might be traumatizing. And in regard to the campus closure, she said about administrators, "for their own reasons of wanting to stay consistent, they decided to close campus."

On the topic of gender presentation, Hilliard says he didn't hear student leaders raise the issue during any of the conversations at which he was present, although he doesn't refute the possibility that the concern was voiced at some point in the process.

About the ID discussions in general, he continues, "We've said to the students, 'If somebody can show us a way this can be done where we don't have to differentiate between students, faculty and staff who have legitimate business on campus and people who only want to party in the sun and smoke weed, we're all ears.' But if there was an easy way to make that distinction, we would have done it by now."

Regarding Hernandez's suggestion that consistency was a motivator for the campus closure this year, he concurs, but says there was more to the university's reasoning.

According to him, "the issue wasn't simply about being consistent. It was about continuing a strategy that was deliberately designed to be a multi-year strategy from the very beginning. The institution has known that it's going to take a number of years for us to get this off the campus permanently.

"The university categorically doesn't want the disruption to happen forevermore on campus," he goes on. "We feel the only way to convey that is to take the actions we need to take to make that a reality. Consistency is a part of that, but it goes beyond that."

In other words, what Hernandez said wasn't wrong, just incomplete. And you know how colleges feel about incompletes.

More from our Education archive: "4/20 at CU-Boulder: Student government argued against campus closure."


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