Free Speech Still Restricted At America’s Universities.

FIRE has just released their third Spotlight on Speech Codes report, and the results are depressing, as usual.
Of the 364 schools whose speech policies were reviewed by FIRE, 270 earned a red-light rating (unconstitutional speech policies), 78 earned a yellow-light rating (some troublesome policies), and a princely 8 received a green-light rating (no limitations on speech).
In FIRE’s previous report, of 346 schools, 259 received a red-light rating, 73 received a yellow-light, and.. eight received a green light. Free speech and liberty do not appear to be growing very perceptibly on America’s campuses.
Let’s look to movement within the tiny fraction of schools that are on or once appeared on the green-light list. Duke and Elizabeth City Universities fell from the green list to the yellow. One of the universities surveyed last year does not appear to have been evaluated this year, while one of the new green light additions, Alabama A&M, doesn’t appear to have evaluated the last time. One school, the University of Utah, moved from the red-light list to the green light.
How was this accomplished? FIRE pointed to their speech code as 2008’s speech code of the month. This policy forbade the posting of items that were “deemed to be racist, sexist, indecent, scandalous, illegal, inciting, advertise alcohol or illegal substances, or in any way oppressive in nature.” Less than a week after this selection, FIRE was contacted and advised that the code had been abrogated. There’s one.
Don’t let the glacial pace of overall change conceal the vital work FIRE’s been doing in the past year, however. The rest of the report is a catalogue of egregious challenges to free speech met and defeated. We’ve seen universities informing students that they couldn’t hang political posters on their doors or use their university email accounts to “endorse or oppose a candidate.” Thanks to FIRE, these efforts were ended. We saw Brandeis, in October of 2007 find Professor Donald Hindley guilty of racial harassment for explaining the use of the term “wetbacks” in class. Thanks to FIRE, Brandeis’ efforts to force Hindley to attend sexual harassment training were ended. And the list goes on. Take a look at FIRE’s full list, and don’t forget how much distance remains to be covered.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

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