College Officials to Vote on Free Speech

February 26, 2004

PHILADELPHIA—FIRE hopes to soon see another major victory for free speech on America’s college and university campuses. Before the end of March 2004, the nation’s largest association of campus judicial administrators will complete voting on a resolution that will have profound substantive and symbolic consequences for free speech on campus. The resolution seeks to ensure that college and university policies reflect their institutions’ legal and moral obligations to freedom of speech on campus. The resolution has already been approved by the Board of Directors of the Association for Student Judicial Affairs (ASJA) and is currently being voted on by the group’s membership-at-large.

"We expect the members of the ASJA to vote in favor of protecting students’ free speech rights," said Greg Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy for FIRE. "FIRE commends the ASJA for bringing urgent attention to the need for such an affirmation of free speech and First Amendment values and for giving its members a chance to affirm a commitment to the freedoms that lie at the very foundation of American liberty. Change is in the air on matters of individual liberty on our campuses. FIRE has played a crucial role in producing that change." FIRE has engaged in dialogue with members of the ASJA for several years, has attended its conferences, and recently led an ASJA seminar on freedom of speech.

Founded sixteen years ago, the ASJA is a 1250-member professional association of college administrators from over 900 campuses across the country and abroad. ASJA trains and consults with university administrators who work directly or indirectly with student disciplinary and judicial systems. The organization has considerable influence with administrators who enforce and often help write campus codes—including speech codes. ASJA’s website may be found at asja.tamu.edu.

The resolution comes at a time when free speech issues on campus are drawing increased interest from lawmakers, the media, and, most importantly, the public. Since its founding in 1999, FIRE has exposed campus restrictions on free expression and has built national coalitions dedicated to freedom of speech and individual rights on our campuses. FIRE’s Speech Codes Litigation Project has overturned several unconstitutional public university speech codes, most recently at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania , in its ongoing and expanding defense of the Bill of Rights. The federal government has also recognized the profound importance of these issues. In July 2003, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, after working with FIRE and others, issued a letter stating that colleges must not interpret its regulations in ways that violate the First Amendment, and in October 2003, a U.S. Senate committee invited FIRE to testify about campus speech codes.

ASJA’s proposed resolution demonstrates that FIRE’s consistent and principled legal and public advocacy on issues of liberty on our campuses has reached the very individuals who conceive and enforce campus policy. FIRE is changing the culture on behalf of free speech on campus.

The resolution acknowledges that "in public institutions, policies, rules, and procedures that are vague and overbroad in limiting student expression are unconstitutional," and calls on all institutions to "review policies, rules, and procedures regularly to ensure that they do not impose illegal or unconstitutional limits on student speech and expression." It also calls for the ASJA to set up a task force to provide guidance on the issue to its members. Voting will conclude on March 22, 2004 .You can read the complete text of the resolution below.

"We urge ASJA to adopt this resolution. We further urge the friends of liberty to encourage the ASJA membership to adopt this resolution resoundingly," said FIRE’s Lukianoff. "By voting for this resolution, ASJA members can show they understand that robust protection for free speech rights is essential to, not inconsistent with, the health, vibrancy, and diversity of our colleges and universities."

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, civic leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and due process on our nation’s campuses. Please visit www.thefire.org to read more.

CONTACT:

Greg Lukianoff , Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg@thefire.org

David W. Parrott, President of the Association for Student Judicial Affairs (ASJA): davep@studentlife.tamu.edu

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