In aftermath of lawsuit, UT trustees approve new campus speaker policy

Six months after a federal court struck down its former campus speaker policy, University of Tennessee trustees have unanimously approved a new policy requiring speakers to be invited to campus, reports the News Sentinel.

The board of trustees ratified the new policy during its winter meeting at the UT-Martin campus, a day after the board’s finance and administration committee approved the change. Under the policy, visitors would still have leeway to engage with students on campus streets and adjoining sidewalks.

“We need to be able to maintain our campuses as a place where we can do our business around education … and preclude activities that are disruptive at moments,” said UT President Joe DiPietro. “This is a way to be able to protect our faculty and staff to be able to do what they need to do.”

UT was forced to change the rules surrounding speakers after Kentucky-based preacher John McGlone filed a federal lawsuit against the university for being asked to leave the Knoxville campus in 2010.

McGlone said he was given two explanations as to why he wasn’t welcome in the open-air amphitheater where he had expressed his beliefs five times over two years without trouble.

The dean of student affairs and a UT attorney relied on separate policies governing free speech, one requiring sponsorship by a student organization and the other requiring an invitation from a student or faculty or staff member.

A federal judge tossed out the lawsuit, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling the vagueness of the policies opened the door for arbitrary and discriminatory applications. The appeals court resurrected the lawsuit and approved a temporary injunction.

That injunction, signed by U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier, was filed Friday and essentially resolves the suit by preventing the University of Tennessee from enforcing the sponsorship requirement of the two previous policies. The injunction does not prevent the university from drafting a new regulation that includes a sponsorship component or prevent McGlone from challenging any new policies.

DiPietro said he’s confident the new policy, drafted under advisement of the university’s lawyers, will withstand any challenges.

UT was also ordered to pay $75,000 in legal fees to McGlone’s attorneys.