Authors Urge the American Historical Association to Join the Battle Against Speech Codes

By December 28, 2005

Check out the important article “A Time to Choose for the AHA in Philadelphia: Speech Codes and the Academic Bill of Rights,” by David Beito, K. C. Johnson, and Ralph E. Luker:

At the meeting of the AHA [American Historical Association] Business Meeting on January 7 in Philadelphia, the members will have a rare opportunity to stand up for academic freedom.

They can vote on one of two resolutions. The weakest of the two condemns the so-called Academic and Student Bill of Rights but is completely silent on other threats to academic freedom, most notably speech codes. For this reason, it will be easy for critics to dismiss the resolution as selective and opportunistic.

A better alternative which does not suffer from this fatal flaw is the second resolution (which is proposed in the form of substitute). The substitute not only opposes the Academic and Student Bill of Rights but also the use of campus speech codes to limit academic freedom.

The article goes on to explain the problem of campus speech codes. Readers who would like to know more about speech codes should go to FIRE’s Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource, which catalogues hundreds of campus speech codes from across the country. Here is what Beito, Johnson, and Luker say:

The problem with speech codes is that speech that should be self-governed by good manners and humility is prescripted by inflexible legal codification. Fortunately, however, Philadelphia’s Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has fought and won a series of legal battles that have curtailed the prevalence of speech codes in public higher education. In private colleges and universities, where 1st Amendment rights do not necessarily prevail, the struggle continues on an institution by institution basis.

FIRE is indeed proud of its victories over speech codes (see our most recent triumph over SUNY Brockport for an update on our legal successes over speech codes), but we always need more allies in the fight. Please contact the AHA to let it know that if the AHA really does take free speech seriously, it needs to oppose these scandalous regulations.

Schools: State University of New York – Brockport