Editorial: Students win for free speech


Michael Rowley/Iowa State Daily

Heather Milder, senior in animal ecology and member of NORML ISU, wears the controversial T-shirt at the first NORML meeting Sept. 17

Editorial Board

Students in the Iowa State chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, not only triumphed Friday when they won their court case against Iowa State in the use of Cy on the organization’s T-shirts, but they also represented the importance of upholding the right of free speech among university students.

NORML ISU, a student organization founded in spring 2012 that supports the legalization of marijuana, initially ran into roadblocks in November 2012 when a T-shirt design featured Cy and a marijuana leaf, a design originally approved by the university, was featured in an article in The Des Moines Register. The university received negative feedback, to which it responded by telling the organization it could no longer produce the shirts.

On Feb. 12, 2013, the university approved a different T-shirt design that read “NORML ISU” across the front and “We are NORML” across the back. The university approved another design April 15, 2013, which read “NORML ISU Student Chapter” on the front.

The Trademark Licensing Office rejected a design in June 2013 that stated “NORML ISU Supports Marijuana Legalization” in all capital letters across the front with a picture of a cannabis leaf. On the back, the design read “National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws” with a smaller cannabis leaf.

According to the Trademark Licensing Office website, art for items or clothing ordered by student organizations should:

  • “Include the group name as registered with Campus Organizations and language to indicate the group is a club or student chapter if not evident from the name
  • Represent the university in a positive manner
  • Not include trademarks or copyright protected material from other entities
  • Not include altered university logos (except vintage Cy and the current athletics Cy, which may be tastefully modified by Sponsored and Affiliated groups to reflect your group’s activities).”

NORML ISU’s use of Cy followed all of these guidelines. We recognize the university could see Cy leaning on the name “NORML ISU” on the shirt as an issue of “representing the university in a positive manner,” but putting Cy on a shirt doesn’t mean the university as a whole supports legalizing marijuana. It means that particular student organization does.

The university could argue that, according to the Guidelines for University Trademark Use by Student and Campus Organizations, “the University’s name and Marks may not be used in a manner which falsely portrays the University’s mission, services, initiatives and positions.” However, the same section of this portion of the guidelines also states: “The University’s name and marks may not be used to imply support or endorsement of a particular position on matters of public concern, unless the University or one of its units has indeed adopted a position and authorized the use.”

The same policy also states: “These guidelines are not intended to prevent the use of the University’s name (as opposed to Marks) in a factual, critical or descriptive manner. Organizations which have received recognition from a university unit (including recognized, affiliated and sponsored organizations) are permitted to use the name (as opposed to logos and nameplate) to factually indicate their connection to the University.”

The student chapter of NORML was established at Iowa State as an official student organization. The students in that organization should be able to have the same shot at using the trademark as any other student organization on campus.

“Today’s U.S. District Court opinion in the NORML case is disappointing. Iowa State University will consult with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to determine if the order will be appealed,” University Relations Executive Director John McCarroll said in an email statement Friday afternoon.

Josh Montgomery, an ISU alumnus who founded NORML ISU in 2012, said he was disappointed in the university’s statement on the verdict.

“It’s unfortunate that [McCarroll] would still stand in the face of students’ right to advocate for what they believe in, especially if it is in a civilized manner and within students’ rights for free speech,” Montgomery said.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.