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Maryland Regents Pass on Porn Policy

The University System of Maryland's Board of Regents declined Wednesday to impose a pornography policy at the 11 schools under its jurisdiction.

The regents followed the chancellor's recommendation to not create a policy regarding films screened "purely for entertainment purposes" on its campuses Wednesday, putting an end to months of debate on students' First Amendment rights.

The University of Maryland, College Park had planned to screen the pornographic film "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge" at its student union in April until state Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, threatened to cut off the university's state funding if it aired.

University President C. D. Mote Jr. quickly cancelled the screening, sparking a national debate on the government's role in student expression.

After First Amendment debates and a discussion with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, several students organized to screen the film on campus on April 6.

The state government originally asked university system campuses, along with Morgan State University, St. Mary's College, and Baltimore City Community College to submit to the Board of Regents policies regarding showing obscene films by Sept. 1, but that had been extended to Dec. 1.

According to the recommendation, the chancellor will write a letter "expressing the view that a policy would not be in the best interest of the USM or the State because of the First Amendment issues a policy would raise."

The board repeatedly said that not creating an explicit policy should not be seen as inaction on the matter.

"We are creating a policy here, and that is to abide by the laws of the land," said Chairman Clifford Kendall, referring to the First Amendment.

He added that campuses should uphold "high ethical and moral standards" when considering events for entertainment purposes.

"I fully endorse this (action) and actually expected this from the beginning," said Mote.

Chancellor William E. Kirwan said the issue is not one of viewing pornography, but rather protecting student rights to free speech. Although the creation of a policy would not bring a financial burden to campuses in itself, "it would be a target for a law suit" that would "almost certainly go to the Supreme Court," Kirwan said, which would ultimately be expensive.

Kirwan also said that such a policy would be difficult to uniformly implement across all university system campuses.

Three students were allowed to speak to the board before the vote, although the board had already made clear that it would not impose a specific policy.

Not creating a specific policy "is right for 2009 and will continue to be right for generations to come," said Brady Walker, chairman of the university system's Student Council. "We are a strong and better system for having engaged in this debate," he added.

Kenton Stalder, a member of the College Park campus student government, said the board's indication of the vote rendered his "fire and brimstone" speech moot.

Steve Glickman, student body president at College Park, commended the board for listening to student opinion on the issue. "The student voice has been loud and clear," in urging the board not to implement a policy, he said.

Robert O'Neil, founder of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and University of Virginia professor, performed much of the research on this issue pro bono. His survey of several universities nationwide turned up none that had created a policy on a similar issue, according to Kirwan.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.