Civil liberties group reestablished

Nicholas Faso

Jim Saksa, a freshman, is in the process of reestablishing the Villanova Civil Liberties Union (VCLU), which has not renewed its charter for six years. The VCLU would be affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). With all of the legwork completed, Saksa is waiting for an approval from the Office of Student Development, which is responsible for giving all student organizations an official, recognized status.

The ACLU was founded by Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman and Albert DeSilver in 1920 with a mission “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States,” according to the group’s web site ( The ACLU is concerned with a host of issues, including free speech, reproductive rights, lesbian/gay rights, capital punishment, religious liberty, drug policy and rights of the poor. At present, the ACLU has almost 400,000 members and handles close to 6,000 court cases annually.

The VCLU will abide by the ACLU and its policies. “The ACLU is a wonderful source of information materials and expertise on civil liberties issues,” Saksa said, adding that although the ACLU is widely regarded as a liberal organization, it is actually more conservative in nature in its attempts to preserve established rights.

Hoping to raise student awareness regarding their rights both as citizens and University students, Saksa formed the group in response to certain policy enforcements which seemed to violate rights of privacy and freedom of expression. One incident involved a random fire safety check, resulting in fines for an empty liquor bottle. On another occasion, Saksa himself was cited for harassment after writing “Support Mean RA Awareness Week,” on a room message board.

“I was flabbergasted to be written up for a jocular statement, which at the very worst was merely my opinion,” Saska said. “It demonstrated that, at least in Villanova’s eyes, students don’t have freedom of speech.”

In response, Assistant Dean Ryan Rost said, “Villanova has high expectations of students, and policy reflects that. We hope to maintain high standards of community which uphold the Catholic tradition. The Villanova mission statement emphasizes mutual love and respect, and we feel students should observe this goal in all of their actions.”

Rost added, “The rooms entered during scheduled fire drills are randomly selected before the school year begins, the only reason being for fire safety purposes. However, if a policy violation is observed it must not be ignored.”

As far as making reforms on campus, the VCLU may have limited influence. Because the University is a private institution and not subject to the same laws as a public university, the administration has more discretion over its policies.

Saksa, however, is not discouraged. “I would like to see the VCLU educate the student body on the current status of their civil liberties both on campus and off,” he said. “This includes our limited privacy rights on campus, and the rights that the Patriot Act stripped us of. If enough students on campus become less complacent and demand more rights, the University will be forced to respond.”