Ole Miss Scraps Speech Codes, Sets National Example by Protecting Student Rights

By January 23, 2012

Here’s today’s press release:

OXFORD, Miss., January 23, 2012—The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) has eliminated its speech codes, earning the highest "green light" rating for free speech from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). While two-thirds of the nation’s colleges maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech, Ole Miss is now a proud exception, having fully reformed four policies that restricted speech protected by the First Amendment. Ole Miss is the 16th school nationwide to earn a green light, the fifth to do so in the last two years, and the first in Mississippi. Ole Miss administrators worked in close contact with FIRE attorneys to address the university’s speech codes. 

“The entire Ole Miss community—students, faculty, administrators, and alumni—has reason to be proud today,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “Ole Miss’ commitment to First Amendment rights has made the university a shining example of how to respect and protect free expression on campus.”

FIRE began working on speech code reform with Ole Miss administrators in February of 2011. Samantha Harris, FIRE’s Director of Speech Code Research, and Scott Wallace, Ole Miss’ Assistant Dean of Students, led the effort. 

Among the policies reformed by Ole Miss was a policy that prohibited “hateful” internet expression. Not only is most “hateful” speech protected by the First Amendment, but reasonable people can also disagree about what is “hateful,” leaving the definition open to subjective interpretation and selective enforcement. Ole Miss rewrote the policy to eliminate this vague and overly broad restriction, which now prohibits only constitutionally unprotected speech.

Ole Miss also revised a requirement that limited unplanned demonstrations and expressive activities to just a few designated “Speaker’s Corners.” That policy severely restricted the ability of Ole Miss students to engage in spontaneous expressive activities on campus. Ole Miss’ new policy now states that students may express themselves elsewhere on campus “so long as the expressive activities or related student conduct does not violate any other applicable University policies.” Ole Miss also revised residence life and harassment policies that previously restricted freedom of expression on campus. 

In earning its green light rating from FIRE, Ole Miss joins James Madison University, the University of Virginia, Arizona State University, and The College of William & Mary as the most recent institutions to have completely eliminated all written policies restricting protected student expression on campus. 

"FIRE has truly enjoyed working with the Ole Miss administration to bring about these reforms," said Harris. "We hope other administrations will follow its lead and that 2012 will bring many more green light schools."

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, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, 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.

Ole Miss Scraps Speech Codes, Sets National Example by Protecting Student Rights

January 23, 2012

OXFORD, Miss., January 23, 2012—The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) has eliminated its speech codes, earning the highest "green light" rating for free speech from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). While two-thirds of the nation’s colleges maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech, Ole Miss is now a proud exception, having fully reformed four policies that restricted speech protected by the First Amendment. Ole Miss is the 16th school nationwide to earn a green light, the fifth to do so in the last two years, and the first in Mississippi. Ole Miss administrators worked in close contact with FIRE attorneys to address the university’s speech codes. 

"The entire Ole Miss community—students, faculty, administrators, and alumni—has reason to be proud today," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "Ole Miss’ commitment to First Amendment rights has made the university a shining example of how to respect and protect free expression on campus."

FIRE began working on speech code reform with Ole Miss administrators in February of 2011. Samantha Harris, FIRE’s Director of Speech Code Research, and Scott Wallace, Ole Miss’ Assistant Dean of Students, led the effort. 

Among the policies reformed by Ole Miss was a policy that prohibited "hateful" internet expression. Not only is most "hateful" speech protected by the First Amendment, but reasonable people can also disagree about what is "hateful," leaving the definition open to subjective interpretation and selective enforcement. Ole Miss rewrote the policy to eliminate this vague and overly broad restriction, which now prohibits only constitutionally unprotected speech.

Ole Miss also revised a requirement that limited unplanned demonstrations and expressive activities to just a few designated "Speaker’s Corners." That policy severely restricted the ability of Ole Miss students to engage in spontaneous expressive activities on campus. Ole Miss’ new policy now states that students may express themselves elsewhere on campus "so long as the expressive activities or related student conduct does not violate any other applicable University policies." Ole Miss also revised residence life and harassment policies that previously restricted freedom of expression on campus. 

In earning its green light rating from FIRE, Ole Miss joins James Madison University, the University of Virginia, Arizona State University, and The College of William & Mary as the most recent institutions to have completely eliminated all written policies restricting protected student expression on campus. 

"FIRE has truly enjoyed working with the Ole Miss administration to bring about these reforms," said Harris. "We hope other administrations will follow its lead and that 2012 will bring many more green light schools."

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, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, 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:
Samantha Harris, Director of Speech Code Research, FIRE: 215-717-3473; samantha@thefire.org
Scott Wallace, Assistant Dean of Students, University of Mississippi: 662-915-2025; swallace@olemiss.edu