FIRE Announces Publication of New Guide to ‘Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies’ for University Administrators

By November 12, 2009

PHILADELPHIA, November 12, 2009The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is proud to announce the publication of Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies, a practical guide for university administrators seeking to protect freedom of expression on their campus.

Authored by Samantha Harris, FIRE’s Director of Speech Code Research, and William Creeley, FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies is a comprehensive yet accessible manual for identifying and remedying the most prevalent problems in policies governing student and faculty speech. Harris and Creeley, both attorneys specializing in First Amendment law, draw on their years of experience analyzing campus speech restrictions to help administrators address recurring misunderstandings about what speech may and may not be prohibited at public and private universities. The new publication is available online and as a PDF for free download, and published copies will be sent to administrators nationwide.

"FIRE’s comprehensive database of university speech restrictions, Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource, reveals the same flaws across hundreds of speech policies," Harris said. "As a result of these all-too-common mistakes, speech on campus is unconstitutionally or unfairly restricted by the same core set of misunderstandings. Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies helps administrators understand both why their policies are flawed and what they can do to fix them."

Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies analyzes frequent errors in policies governing harassment, civility, bias reporting, computer and network use, free speech zones, and campus postings. In each instance, Harris and Creeley both locate the recurring mistake and identify a way to correct it. Further, the authors review common mistakes in the administration of speech policies, including discussions of hidden or inconsistent policies, problematic or contradictory auxiliary materials, and outdated online policies.

Despite two decades of federal court decisions declaring speech codes unlawful at public universities, unconstitutional restrictions on campus speech are widespread. FIRE’s 2009 report, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2009: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuseswhich surveyed policies at 364 American colleges and universities, found that approximately 74 percent of schools surveyed maintain policies that clearly restrict speech that, outside the borders of campus, is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. With FIRE’s help, that number has been declining for the past two years.

"In spite of the shocking and disappointing prevalence of speech codes at colleges and universities across the country, FIRE hopes that most administrators want to do the right thing and protect speech at their institutions," Creeley said. "Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies is an effort to help college administrators end unconstitutional or unfair prohibitions on speech before they wind up in court or in the middle of a national free speech controversy. FIRE is here to help."

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:
William Creeley, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 212-582-3191; will@thefire.org