Report: Campus Free Speech Threatened in Illinois

March 8, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, March 8, 2012—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE; thefire.org) has released its 2012 report on campus speech codes. Unfortunately, the report shows that colleges in Illinois continue to restrict student speech. Among the schools with Illinois’ worst speech codes are Chicago State University and Governors State University.

Two-thirds of the 392 colleges and universities analyzed nationwide—including all of the institutions surveyed in Illinois—maintain policies that seriously infringe upon the free speech rights of students, which FIRE deems "red light" policies. Nationally, the percentage of red light schools dropped for the fourth consecutive year, with even more schools eliminating all of their restrictive speech codes in 2011. Illinois did not contribute to this trend, however, with the state’s major institutions of higher education all maintaining significant restrictions on student speech. 

Major Findings:

  • Of the thirteen Illinois institutions surveyed, all thirteen (100%) earned a red light rating.
  • Two-thirds (65%) of the 392 schools surveyed nationally have speech codes that clearly fail to meet First Amendment standards.
  • While public colleges and universities are required to uphold the First Amendment, public institutions nationally were no more likely than private ones to have policies that met constitutional standards: 65% of both public and private schools earned red lights.
  • In some good news, the number of schools nationally that do not maintain any speech codes (FIRE awards such schools a "green light" rating) has nearly doubled in the last four years, from eight to 14 schools. However, no green light schools are located in Illinois.

Spotlight on Speech Codes 2012: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses (web version / PDF version) reports on policies at America’s largest and most prestigious colleges and universities. In Illinois, some of this year’s most outrageous speech codes include:

  • Chicago State University prohibits any "teasing" or "insulting." Under threat of punishment, students are left to guess at what the university might deem "insulting." It is virtually impossible to go through four years of one’s life without saying something that someone could find insulting, rendering every single Chicago State student a campus policy offender who is subject to punishment at any time.
  • Governors State University prohibits all "disparaging comments or statements regarding the religious affiliation, gender, age, race, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity of others." Speech cannot be prohibited simply because someone finds it "disparaging"; otherwise, virtually every controversial or unpopular opinion would be subject to punishment.

FIRE Director of Speech Code Research Samantha Harris said, "It is shocking that Illinois’ institutions of higher education are uniformly infringing on their students’ free speech rights. Speech codes remain a problem around the country, but more and more schools are getting the message that these restrictions are not okay, and the trend is moving in the right direction. Illinois has a lot of catching up to do."

All of the policies cited in the report are accessible online in FIRE’s searchable speech code database, Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource. Individuals interested in drawing attention to their institution’s policies can easily do so by adding FIRE’s Speech Code Widget to their blog or website. Simple instructions for adding the widget are located here.

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