FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for January 2014: the University of West Alabama (UWA).
The University of West Alabama has a new policy prohibiting “Cyberbullying and Cyber Harassment” (PDF) that subjects virtually every student and faculty member on campus to punishment. That is because the policy defines cyberbullying to include not only unlawful conduct and unprotected speech, but also “harsh text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.”
Go ahead and read that one again: “harsh text messages or emails.” Given that a “harsh” text or email [...] » Read More
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for December 2013: Virginia State University.
According to Virginia State’s Student Code of Conduct (PDF), “[s]tudents shall not injure, harass, threaten, offend, or degrade a member of the University community” (emphasis added). Any violation of this provision “is subject to disciplinary sanctions including, but not limited to warning, probation, loss of privileges, fines, restitution, residence hall suspension, residence hall expulsion, Virginia State University suspension, and Virginia State University expulsion.”
So here we have a public university, legally bound by the First Amendment, threatening to expel students if they “offend” another student on campus. Do you support [...] » Read More
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for November 2013: Rogers State University.
The Student Code (PDF) at Oklahoma’s Rogers State University includes a policy on “Campus Expression” that provides, in relevant part:
In order to protect the rights of all concerned individuals, any students or student organizations wanting to hold a peaceful protest must register with the Office of Student Affairs by filling out a “Campus Expression Form” at least three (3) days prior to the event. A meeting will be arranged with the event organizers, Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Campus Police to facilitate the event. Under [...] » Read More
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for October 2013: Salem State University.
The Guide to Living on Campus for Massachusetts’ Salem State includes a Policy Against Racism (PDF) that applies to all students living in the university’s residence halls, spaces where students often speak the most freely. That policy “prohibits racism, anti-Semitism and ethnic or cultural intolerance.” It also prohibits
all actions or omissions—including all acts of verbal harassment or abuse—that deny or have the effect of denying anyone his or her rights to equality, dignity and security on the basis of his or her race, color, ethnicity, [...] » Read More
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for September 2013: Syracuse University.
Syracuse has just one “red light” speech code on its books, but it’s a doozy. The university’s Computing and Electronic Communications Policy (PDF) prohibits using its computer systems to send “offensive messages,” including “sexually, ethnically, racially, or religiously offensive messages.” This broad policy could apply to virtually any online expression that another person finds offensive, including earnest discussions of politically charged topics like immigration, affirmative action, and gay marriage. As such, it is wholly inconsistent with Syracuse’s commitment to “freedom of discussion” and “the [...] » Read More
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for August 2013: Florida Atlantic University (FAU).
Perhaps in response to some of the recent controversy at the university, FAU—a public university—has adopted a new policy on “Free Speech and Campus Civility” (PDF). That policy states, in relevant part:
Here at FAU, we encourage our campus community to exercise this cherished freedom in lively debate. In fact, we protect and promote that right. What we do insist on, however, is that everyone in the FAU community behave and speak to and about one another in ways that are not racist, religiously intolerant or otherwise [...] » Read More
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for July 2013: the University of Central Arkansas (UCA). If you are applying to UCA, you had better make sure to brush up on your social skills, because UCA’s list of “Offenses Subject to Disciplinary Action” (PDF) includes “annoying” another person. This policy is overly broad because nearly all “annoying” speech is fully protected by the First Amendment. Indeed, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly said as much in Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949), when it held that “freedom of speech, [...] » Read More
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for June 2013: Bemidji State University in Minnesota.
Bemidji State’s Student Code of Conduct prohibits:
engaging in any offensive, obscene or abusive language, or in boisterous or noisy conduct reasonably tending to arouse alarm, resentment, or anger in others on University-owned or controlled property or at University sponsored or supervised activities.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, speech and expression cannot be prohibited simply because others find it offensive. In Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414 (1989), the U.S. Supreme Court held that "[i]f there is a [...] » Read More
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for May 2013: Troy University in Alabama.
As FIRE’s annual speech codes report demonstrates, the percentage of colleges and universities maintaining unconstitutional speech codes has been on the decline for several years now. In our most recent report, the percentage of schools earning FIRE’s worst, “red light,” rating stood at just over 62%, down from a high of 75% five years ago.
One place where this change has been particularly evident is in university policies addressing harassment and discrimination. Over the years, an increasing number of schools have gotten the message that “harassment” [...] » Read More
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for April 2013: Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL). Specifically, WUSTL’s Residence Life Policies and Procedures define “harassment” as:
any behavior or conduct that is injurious, or potentially injurious to a person’s physical, emotional, or psychological well-being, as determined at the sole discretion of the University. Such behavior is subject to disciplinary action.
While many speech codes open the door to administrative abuse of discretion, few are so shameless about it. In fact, the only similar policy that comes to mind is Northeastern University’s Appropriate Use Policy (PDF)—another former [...] » Read More