Various Student Organizations, Sam Houston State University

From September 2011 to November 2011
Sam Houston State University (Public college or university)
Huntsville, TX, United States


Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Recognized student group event
  • Incident Political Orientation:
  • Incident Responses:
    Faculty responses (e.g., asking student to leave classroom)
  • Incident Status:
    No litigation
  • Did not involve Speech Codes


In September 2011, Sam Houston State University (SHSU) instituted a policy requiring all student organizations using the letters “SHSU” and other terms must join a speech-restrictive “Official Community” controlled by the university. Part of this policy required student organizations to turn over their social media passwords so that SHSU officials could censor postings that were inconsistent with SHSU’s corporate message. To protest the policy, on September 22, 2011 four student organizations representing a range of ideological perspectives cosponsored the display of a “free speech wall.” Many students wrote a variety of political and other messages on the wall, including “don’t hate against Gays,” “If you make less than $200,000 Republicans don’t care about you,” “Han Solo Shot First,” “Legalize Weed,” and “FUCK OBAMA.”

SHSU Professor of Mathematics Joe E. Kirk demanded that the student organizers cover up the part of the wall containing the profanity about President Obama. They declined to do so, so Kirk cut out the profanity next to the word “Obama” with a box cutter. The student organizations reported this act of vandalism to a SHSU Police Department officer, who informed the students that they must either cover up all the profanity or take down the wall altogether. The students took down the entire wall. Later that day, University Police Department Deputy Chief James Fitch stated that because Kirk was “offended by the use of the profanity,” its use qualified as “disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.” On November 17, 2011, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reported that SHSU had dropped its social media policy.