As students return to campus amidst a global pandemic, news stories are popping up, citing the concerns of residents assistants in dormitories about how some universities are handling safety.
Almost all of the concerns are from RAs who are speaking anonymously, and almost all of the stories cite policies that prevent them from speaking on the record.
In Episode 2, we talked about how Brechner Center research found that public universities are unconstitutionally gagging the rights of student athletes by making rules that they can’t speak to the media. Similar research has found that this is a problem for resident assistants too.
Of the 20 public universities where we were able to obtain policies, we found at least 11 were problematic, saying things like .. “do not speak with any media” and “call the department head if the media has questions.”
The worst example we found was at East Carolina University, where the RA contract says the director must be told of all media contacts “even in a personal unofficial role.”
“Yes, that's all automatically going to be a violation of the first amendment,” said Louis Clark, executive director of the Government Accountability Project. “You have the freedom of speech. You're working for a public university. If this public university ends up essentially directing you, that you cannot speak publicly about anything related to the job, then that, in and of itself, is a violation of the First Amendment because they're the government and the first amendment is directed at the government.”