More Speech Codes Under Review at Florida Gulf Coast U.

By July 14, 2008

According to an article in the Naples Daily News, officials at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) are reviewing several unconstitutional speech codes recently targeted by FIRE. This positive development comes on the heels of FGCU’s recent revision of its "personal abuse" policy, which FIRE named its April 2007 Speech Code of the Month.

Last month, FIRE praised FGCU for revising the personal abuse policy (which had prohibited, among other things, "expressions deemed inappropriate"), but pointed out that several other unconstitutional policies remained in force at the university. In particular, we cited a residence life policy prohibiting "annoying" messages "sent via e-mail or instant messenger, posted on Facebook, MySpace, blogs, or other electronic media," and a nondiscrimination policy prohibiting "offensive or demeaning language or treatment of an individual, where such language or treatment is based typically on prejudicial stereotypes of a group to which an individual may belong."

Yesterday, FGCU Vice President of Student Affairs Mike Rollo told the Naples Daily News that those policies were under review:

Rollo said he wasn’t aware that the description included the word "annoying," and said he’d meet with the director of Housing and Residence Life to review the policy and determine whether any changes are necessary.

"That’s a problematic word ‘annoying’ is too vague, I think," Rollo said. "Annoying somebody is not very nice, but it’s not something to punish somebody for. We have to review this and ask ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of what we’re trying to do here?’ and say, ‘If that’s not the right terminology, what is?’ "

[...]

The other policy FIRE took issue with also involved the definition of harassment, this time under the Equal Opportunity and Diversity Affairs’ non-discrimination policy and complaint procedures. It defines harassment as including "offensive or demeaning language or treatment of an individual, where such language is based typically on prejudicial treatment." [...] Rollo said he couldn’t find the exact wording FIRE describes, but said he was looking into it.

(Note: The language Rollo is looking for can be found on FGCU’s website in section (2)(c) of the policy at http://www.fgcu.edu/eeo/eeo_03_02.html, and FIRE also has copies available in PDF format.)

In the article, several FGCU students also expressed their concerns over the vague policies:

"I think it’s annoying when people alternate between capital and lowercase letters in their e-mails. Is that annoying enough?" said physical therapy graduate student Christy Martin, 24. "That policy just sounds so vague."

Brandie Redman, 34, was eating lunch with Martin and also began questioning the policy’s wording.

"I think it’s annoying when I get a bunch of e-mails from campus groups that don’t interest me. Could they be punished for that?" she said. "They need to make (the definition) more specific.

In a move quite typical of university administrators, Vice President Rollo also told the paper that the change to the personal abuse policy had nothing to do with FIRE’s public condemnation of the policy, but was simply made "out of a need to update its policies to keep with the times." While this claim seems somewhat dubious to me, it doesn’t matter if it is true or notwhatever the reason, the policy is changed, and students are freer as a result. Hopefully FGCU’s other unconstitutional policiesand its poor, "red light" rating on Spotlightwill soon meet with a similar fate.