FIRE.org | Dec. 6, 2007
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released its 2007 report on campus speech codes, revealing that American colleges and universities are teeming with restrictions on students’ freedom of expression.
For the report, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2007: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses, FIRE reviewed policies at 346 American colleges and universities and found that 75 percent of schools surveyed maintain policies that clearly restrict speech that—outside the borders of campus—is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“With increased resources and enhanced research techniques, FIRE was able to unearth even more of these unlawful and pervasive policies than those included in last year’s report,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “The 2007 report confirms that speech codes are still infecting college campuses, and the public needs to be aware of these dangerous violations of students’ right to engage in free and open expression.”
FIRE’s report is the most comprehensive effort to date to both quantify the number of colleges and universities that restrict free speech and assess the severity of those restrictions. The report surveyed publicly available policies at the 100 “Best National Universities” and at the 50 “Best Liberal Arts Colleges,” as rated in the August 28, 2006, “America’s Best Colleges” issue of U.S. News & World Report, as well as at an additional 196 major public universities. The research was conducted between September 2006 and September 2007.
The report’s findings include:
- Public colleges and universities are disregarding their constitutional obligations. A staggering 79 percent of public universities surveyed maintain unconstitutional speech codes, despite decades of federal court decisions striking down similar or identical policies.
- Most private colleges and universities promise free speech, but they usually do not deliver. Unlike public universities, private universities are not legally bound by the First Amendment. However, most of them explicitly promise free speech rights to their students and faculty. For example, Tufts University promises it is “an open campus committed to the free exchange of ideas,” but it found student journalists guilty of harassment simply for publishing a satirical Christmas carol and a factually verifiable criticism of radical Islam that some members of the campus community found offensive.
Highlights of FIRE’s research from the 2006-2007 academic year include:
- Northeastern University in Boston prohibits students from using the university’s network to “[t]ransmit or make accessible material, which in the sole judgment of the University is offensive….”
- Florida Gulf Coast University prohibits “expressions deemed inappropriate.”
- At The Ohio State University, students in the residence halls are instructed: “Do not joke about differences related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability, socioeconomic background, etc.”
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