Phi Beta Kappa: Member Institutions’ Speech Codes

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: George Mason University

When George Mason University cancelled a speech by filmmaker Michael Moore, the Phi Beta Kappa Society denied George Mason University’s application for a campus chapter of the honor society, citing academic freedom concerns. Given the Society’s professed commitment to freedom of speech, FIRE wrote to Phi Beta Kappa Secretary John Churchill to point out the speech codes that abound at Phi Beta Kappa member institutions. FIRE’s letter specifically called attention to outrageous codes at Cornell UniversityOberlin CollegeThe Ohio State UniversityPenn State UniversityRhodes College, theUniversity of Illinois at Chicago, and West Virginia University. Given Phi Beta Kappa’s stance on GMU, it seems reasonable to assume that the society would uphold the same tenets of academic freedom that it expects from others.

  • FIRE criticizes honor society

    December 1, 2005

    By Benjamin Jones at The Badger Herald The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education criticized the honor society Phi Beta Kappa Tuesday, citing the society’s inconsistent policies regarding freedom of expression. In a nine-page letter, FIRE program director Samantha Harris referenced several possible constitutional free-speech violations by seven universities in which Phi Beta Kappa chapters are present. “Nearly all of Phi Beta Kappa’s member institutions maintain speech codes of some kind, many of them unconstitutional or an unlawful violation of contractual promises made to students and faculty,” Harris said in the letter. “Policies such as [these] pose a real […]

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  • Quick Takes

    November 30, 2005

    The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is calling on Phi Beta Kappa, the honor society, to start demanding that its member colleges drop speech codes that limit what students and faculty members can say. While Phi Beta Kappa has spoken out about academic freedom, it has not gotten involved in debates over speech codes.

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  • Commentary & News Briefs

    December 2, 2005

    The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is urging America’s oldest undergraduate honor society to place pressure on its member institutions to drop restrictions on student speech. FIRE’s legal director Greg Lukianoff says just about every school that has a Phi Beta Kappa chapter maintains some kind of speech code, many of which are what FIRE grades as “red light” speech codes. For example, Lukianoff points out, Oberlin College in Ohio has a code that prevents speech that calls attention to sexual orientation or gender. “The idea that you can’t call attention to sexual orientation or gender — and […]

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  • Free-Speech Group Questions Phi Beta Kappa’s Commitment to Academic Freedom

    November 30, 2005

    A free-speech group has put the Phi Beta Kappa Society on the spot by accusing it of an inconsistent commitment to academic freedom. In a nine-page letter faxed to Phi Beta Kappa on Tuesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education detailed its objections to what it described as speech codes at seven colleges and universities where the honor society has chapters. “So many of Phi Beta Kappa’s member institutions have unconstitutional speech codes that we cannot list them all here,” Samantha Harris, program officer of the advocacy group, said in the letter, which called the speech policies at the […]

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  • FIRE Asks Phi Beta Kappa to Hold Members Accountable for Speech Codes

    November 30, 2005

    WASHINGTON, D.C., November 30, 2005—Earlier this year, the Phi Beta Kappa Society made national headlines by rejecting George Mason University’s (GMU’s) application for membership after GMU cancelled a speech by filmmaker Michael Moore. Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is publicly urging this prestigious honor society to stand by its professed commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry by taking action against its member institutions’ many speech codes.   “Phi Beta Kappa’s concern for free speech is to be commended—but the GMU incident was one lecture, at one university,” declared FIRE Director of Legal and Public […]

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  • FIRE Letter to Phi Beta Kappa Secretary John Churchill, November 29, 2005

    November 29, 2005

    Dr. John Churchill, Secretary The Phi Beta Kappa Society 1606 New Hampshire Ave., NW Washington, DC 20009 Sent by U.S. Mail and Facsimile (202-986-1601) Dear Dr. Churchill: As you can see from our Board of Directors and Board of Advisors, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) unites leaders in the fields of civil rights and civil liberties, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, legal equality, freedom of religion, academic freedom, due process, and, in this case, freedom of speech and expression on America’s college campuses.  Our website, thefire.org, will […]

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