Students protest over 'gag' move

BAPTIST students are poised to challenge the college's right to limit their freedom of speech. They are now trying to ascertain just how clearly freedom on campus is defined in the college ordinance and regulations.

The move was prompted by the recent seminar ''Freedom of Speech on Campus'', at which a legal expert warned that schools had the right to ''gag'' students through internal regulations.

Mr Philip Li, who has been in the legal field for 10 years, said regulations should be viewed as a kind of contract that students agreed upon before entering school.

''Since the school owns the campus, every student must abide by its laws or rules if he or she wants to study there and use its facilities,'' Mr Li said.

''It is like a signed contract between the school and the students. The rights and duties of both sides should be stated clearly before the contract is made effective.'' Mr Li said that once students entered the school, they should follow its rules, and the school had the final say on what students could say and do on campus, according to the ''contract''.

If students found the contract unsatisfactory, they were free to withdraw and leave the college.

Baptist College's student union president Tsang Kwok-fung, however, said he was ''shocked'' to learn there was such such a contract concept, and was worried that students' interests would be at risk under such an ''unfair'' deal.

''We were not clearly informed about our rights and duties when we entered the college,'' Kwok-fung said. It looked as though the students would have to keep to a contract they were not aware of in the first place, he added.

''Besides, I doubt if we can break the contract. We can't quit school because of the limited number of tertiary places.'' The union has decided to look into the school's ordinance and regulations to see if students' rights, such as freedom of speech on campus and freedom to form clubs, were mentioned.

''In the past, schools usually took a parental role and talked about students' duties rather than their rights,'' he said.

''However, society is changing. Nowadays students are more aware of their rights in schools.

''More and more people are questioning whether the school has a right to enforce such regulations, whether the rules are reasonable, and whether students should follow them.'' Concern over freedom of speech arose after rows broke out last year between students and the college's Students Affairs Office.

Students protested angrily when the office made moves to screen posters before they were posted on campus. A school proposal to set up a gag body was dropped after the protests.