Most campuses restrict free speech, report finds

December 7, 2007

Columbia and New York University, as well as Barnard College and the State University of New York, are schools on high alert for restricting free speech on campus, according to a new report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. In a review of 345 American colleges and universities, FIRE found that 75% of campuses instituted public policies that restricted speech protected by the First Amendment, according to the report, “Spotlight on Speech Codes.”

At NYU, “teasing, mocking, degrading, or ridiculing” another person or group is prohibited on campus.

At Columbia University, sexual harassment is defined as “any unwanted sexual attention,” according to the report. The overly broad definition had the affect of prohibiting some acceptable speech, FIRE officials said.

“The conclusions of the report are disturbing,” the director of legal and public advocacy at FIRE, Samantha Harris, said. “We think students should be learning that the right to free speech should be cherished and upheld.”

“Speech codes” became prevalent on campuses in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the report, as female and minority enrollment increased and administrators sought to defuse tensions that came with a more diverse student body. While the guarantees of the First Amendment do not apply to students at private institutions, colleges and universities make “extensive promises” of free speech to their students that they don’t live up to, Ms. Harris said.

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Schools: New York University Columbia University