‘Red Light’ Florida Atlantic University Promises to Promote Free Speech

By August 13, 2013

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) has been called “quite obviously the worst place in the United States to attend college.” While that is certainly a subject for (free and open) debate, FIRE has rated FAU as a “red light” school for its abysmal speech codes. FAU, however, appears to be ready for a change. FAU, embroiled in controversy and possibly wishing to eliminate potentially offensive debate, recently enacted a ban on “racist” and “religiously intolerant” speech. This new policy on “Free Speech and Campus Civility” (PDF) earned recognition as FIRE’s August Speech Code of the Month. This is, of course, nothing to be proud of; FIRE’s Samantha Harris reminded FAU that “it is laudable that the university wants to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable, but as a public university, FAU cannot pursue this goal at the expense of the First Amendment rights of its students and faculty members.” Perhaps FAU is beginning to recognize that censorship is not the way to create civil discourse, however. Yesterday, FAU announced the creation of a year-long program, the Agora Project, that “seeks to invigorate campus dialogue on matters of our own shared and vibrant University environment” and “will host forums on the importance of academic freedom, academic responsibility, and freedom of expression.” With this project, FAU’s goal is to “better promote a campus culture of awareness and understanding for the practice of civility and civil discourse in an environment of free speech, academic freedom and open dialogue.”  Hopefully, FAU will remember that meaningful civil discourse can only occur in free and open debate. FIRE recommends that all FAU students participate in the Agora Project by making FAU’s red light rating the first topic of discussion. This forum would be the perfect place for students and administrators to discuss how to make FAU a “green light” school. As always, FIRE would be more than happy to help FAU revise its red light and “yellow light” codes in favor of policies that truly promote free speech and academic freedom.  The email announcing the Agora Project to FAU students and faculty is included below: To FAU Students, Faculty and Staff, The President, Provost and Senior Vice President for Student Affairs are pleased to announce the Agora Project – a year-long inquiry into ways Florida Atlantic University might better promote a campus culture of awareness and understanding for the practice of civility and civil discourse in an environment of free speech, academic freedom and open dialogue. In ancient times, the agora was the designated public space where citizens would gather to discuss matters of their shared civic life. The agora was the vibrant center of the city; a place where political issues of the day were debated, goods were marketed, scientific theories were exchanged, crowds were entertained by musicians or theatrical productions, and the community came together to socialize and share their lives with one another. Through the Agora Project, FAU seeks to invigorate campus dialogue on matters of our own shared and vibrant University environment. A university is composed of numerous spaces (classrooms, lecture halls, performance spaces, research centers, laboratories, libraries, sporting venues and residence halls). It is also, however, one collective space that thrives best when it cherishes open inquiry, the free expression of one’s beliefs, and respectful engagement and interaction among peoples who come from every corner of the world and who represent a diversity of opinion and belief. The Agora Project will invite suggestions and commentary from all members of the universitycommunity, across all of its campuses, affiliates and interested members of the public, on ways we can best foster dialogue and practices that ensure the dignity of the people and the ideas that travel through our halls. It will host forums on the importance of academic freedom, academic responsibility, and freedom of expression; create workshops on how best to practice civil and respectful interaction with others; and provide opportunities to discuss, dialogue and debate matters relevant to FAU and to our world. The Agora Project invites you to share suggestions on how FAU can better promote an engaged, reflective and responsible community, or to recommend topics you think the Agora Project should consider for its forums, events and public debates. You are also invited to participate in the Project as a student, faculty or staff member at FAU. All inquiries and ideas should be directed to Dr. William Trapani (agoraproject@fau.edu or wtrapan1@fau.edu), faculty member in the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies and Agora Project lead facilitator. The Agora Project is overseen for the President, Provost and Senior Vice President for Student Affairs by Dr. Heather Coltman (coltman@fau.edu), Interim Dean of the Dorothy F. Schmidt Colleges of Arts and Letters, and Dr. Corey King (cking14@fau.edu), Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. They may also be contacted about the Project. This message has been sent on behalf of the Office of the Provost 

Schools: Florida Atlantic University