Sam Houston State University

Location: Huntsville, Texas
Type: Public
Federal Circuit: 5th Circuit

Speech Code Rating

Sam Houston State University has been given the speech code rating Red. A red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. Read more here.

  • Sam Houston State University: Faculty Member Takes Box Cutter to Students’ Free Speech Wall; Police Threaten Students with Misdemeanor

    September 23, 2011

    On September 22, 2011, the student groups SHSU Lovers of Liberty, Bearkat Democrats, Young Democratic Socialists, and College Republicans sponsored the display of a “free speech wall,” on which students were invited to write any message they wanted. When SHSU Professor Joe E. Kirk saw that someone had written “FUCK OBAMA” on the wall, he demanded that the student organizers cover up the message. When they refused, Kirk returned with a box cutter and cut out the word “FUCK.” On the advice of an SHSU administrator, the student groups contacted SHSU’s University Police Department to report Kirk’s vandalism. After SHSU […]

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Red Light Policies

  • Student Guidelines: Code of Student Conduct and Discipline 11-12

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility, Statement

    Campus disruptive activities (see subparagraph 5.4) or disorderly conduct on component-owned or controlled property
    or at a component-sponsored or supervised function that inhibit or interfere with the educational responsibility of the component community or the component’s social-educational activities shall include but not be limited to: using abusive, indecent, profane or vulgar language; making offensive gestures or displays that tend to incite a breach of the peace; perpetrating fights, assaults, acts of sexual violence, abuse, or threats; or evincing some obviously offensive manner or committing an act that causes a person to feel threatened.

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  • Student Guidelines: Parades, Publications, Demonstrations and Rallies 11-12

    Speech Code Category: Posting Policies, Statement

    No group or person, whether
    or not a student or employee, shall
    publicly display, distribute, or disseminate on the component campus any petition, handbill, or piece
    of literature, work, or material that
    is obscene, vulgar, or libelous,
    or that advocates the deliberate
    violation of any federal, state, or
    local law.

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  • Acceptable Use Policy 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies, Statement

    All individuals are accountable for their actions relating to SHSU information technology
    resources. Direct violations include the following: ... Intentionally accessing, creating, storing or transmitting material which SHSU may
    deem to be offensive, indecent or obscene (other than in the course of
    academic research or authorized administrative duties where this aspect of the research or work has the explicit approval of the SHSU official processes for
    dealing with academic ethical issues).

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Yellow Light Policies
  • Student Guidelines: Sexual Harassment Policy 11-12

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    Hostile environment sexual harassment
    occurs when sexually harassing conduct (as
    stated above) by an employee, by another
    student, or by a third party is sufficiently
    severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a
    student’s ability to participate in or benefit
    from an education program or activity, or
    creates an intimidating, hostile, offensive or
    demeaning education or work environment.

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  • Residence Hall Handbook: Harassment 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    Harassment is not tolerated and will result in disciplinary action which may
    include loss of university housing. "Harassment" is defined as verbal threats, intimidation, or
    conduct which tend to cause or incite a breach of the peace or are severe or pervasive enough to
    substantially interfere with a reasonable student’s educational performance, opportunities or
    benefits, or mental emotional or physical well-being and which actually do so interfere.
    Behaviors and actions exhibited via electronic media including email, text messaging or social
    networking websites (e.g. Facebook or Twitter) may be in violation of the harassment policy.

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  • Residence Hall Handbook: Offensive/Obscene Materials 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Posting Policies, Statement

    Students who hang/place items in their room that are
    in public view (windows, doors, bathrooms etc.) that the University determines to be offensive
    and/or obscene will be asked to remove the items immediately and may be subject to disciplinary
    action. The University reserves the right to enter a student's room to remove items that are found
    offensive and/or obscene if the student is not present during the discovery.

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Green Light Policies
  • Student Guidelines: Code of Student Conduct and Discipline 11-12

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    Harassment where the individual intentionally threatens,
    in person, by telephone, electronically, in writing, or by other
    means, to take unlawful action
    against any person and by this action intentionally, knowingly, or
    recklessly annoys or alarms the
    recipient or intends to annoy or
    alarm the recipient.

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  • Student Guidelines: Publications of Student Groups 11-12

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression, Statement

    The university affirms its position that
    freedom of expression, as well as inquiry, is
    essential to a student’s educational development. Vigorous intellectual explorations by
    students may sometimes result in questioning
    of popular conceptions, and this in turn, may
    elicit the concern of society at large. One of
    the axioms upon which our nation was built,
    however, is that truth needs no protection,
    but is vital by vigorous debate in a market Student 54 Guidelines
    place where all ideas can be presented and
    then tested by the reason of free people.

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  • Student Guidelines: Racial Harassment Policy 11-12

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    "Racial Harassment" is defined as extreme or outrageous acts or communications
    that are intended to harass, intimidate, or humiliate students, faculty, staff, or visitors on
    account of race, color, or national origin and
    that reasonably cause them to suffer severe
    emotional distress.

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  • Hey, Colleges: Stop Censoring Political Speech!

    October 5, 2012

    The presidential election has devoured the Internet. Like a b-movie monster from the 60s — I’m thinking Mothra, or maybe the underrated Gamera – election talk has demolished my Twitter timeline and pulverized my Facebook feed. Don’t get me started about my e-mail inbox, which is a mess of poll chatter, fundraising pitches, and petition drives. And offline, back in the real world, it’s just as intense. My walk to work takes me past dozens of campaign signs posted in people’s windows, the office watercooler talk is still dissecting Wednesday’s debate, and of course you can’t turn on the television without hitting a solid […]

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  • [VIDEO] Police and Professor Censor Anti-Obama Remarks on University’s Free Speech Wall

    October 2, 2012

    Forget the First Amendment. Forget Freedom of Speech. Forget going through all the proper channels to express your rights as an American. In an explosive new video, FIRE, an individual rights organization exposes how one university managed to stifle the Constitutional rights of its students. Last year, students at Sam Houston State University erected a “free speech wall” in which any student could write anything he or she wanted upon that wall as an expression of their first amendment rights. But as soon as an anti—Obama remark was written, a professor, with the help of the campus police, managed to have it censored because […]

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  • Breaking: Morgan Freeman Censored After Allowing “F*ck Obama” on a Free Speech Wall!

    October 1, 2012

    That’s Morgan Freeman — obviously not the male African—American actor who donated $1 million to President Obama’s re—election effort. This MF is a student at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in Huntsville, Texas (about 80 miles north of Houston and Dan Rather’s alma mater). HerStudents for Liberty chapter put together a “free speech wall” and invited students to write whatever the hell they wanted to write. Entries ranged from listing the college president’s salary to calling out cheating lovers to the inevitable “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” But things got hairy when a professor spied a “Fuck Obama” message — and literally cut it […]

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  • University ditches controversial social media rules

    December 13, 2011

    Sam Houston State University’s social media policy that drew heated criticism from a national free-speech organization and student groups has been nixed by campus officials. Administrators on the 17,000-student public campus in Huntsville, Texas, said they would scrap the Social Media Policy and Procedure Manual that was protested by disparate campus political groups, opting instead to create a new set of rules from scratch. The school’s policy stipulated that any student group that uses the university’s name or abbreviation must join the official SHSU social media universe or change their name. A student group would have to change its name to something that […]

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  • Controversial social media rules spark student backlash

    October 2, 2011

    SHSU student groups might have to change their names in accordance with new school policy. Sam Houston State University’s controversial social media policy is perhaps the only thing that could unite the campus’s College Republicans, College Democrats, and the Young Democratic Socialists: The groups have joined together to protest rules that could affect their presence of Twitter and Facebook. SHSU, a 17,000-student public campus in Huntsville, Texas, rolled out a new policy for university-related social media this semester, creating a “social media universe” that student groups can join on popular social sites where students communicate and announcements are made and […]

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  • Censored Obama insult: Prof. slashes Free Speech on Texas campus with box cutter

    September 25, 2011

    Since 9/11, box cutters have had a bad name. In 9/11, it was life that was at risk, now at Sam Houston University (SHSU) in Texas, it is  liberty, Freedom of Speech, that has been literally slashed away – by a box cutter in the hand of a professor. September 24, according to the Houstonian, the Foundation for Individual Rights for Students (FIRE) is now involved and has sent a letter to Sam Houston State University, expressing their “deepest concern”  regarding the decision “to censor students’ expression on a “free speech wall” on campus”. An article published on the Daily […]

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  • National rights group writes letter to SHSU President, gets response

    September 23, 2011

    The box-cutter wielding professor and SHSU University Police Department are the targets of a letter sent to University President Dana Gibson by a national civil rights group. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) tells Gibson the group is “deeply concerned” by the actions taken by both the professor and the UPD at the “Free Speech Wall” protest on Sept. 22. Students organizing the event were protesting the proposed SHSU Social Media Policy and Procedures Manual. The “Wall” was a collection of wooden boards, covered with white parchment paper, that spanned the width of the Lee Drain Building atrium on the […]

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  • Insult Obama? Not on this campus!

    September 23, 2011

    Insulting the president and other government officials is practically a national pastime in the United States. This is a testament to the freedom of our society; in some parts of the world, insulting those who govern earns you swift punishment, or at least official censorship. That isn’t the case in America — unless you live on a college campus. Students at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in Texas found this out the hard way yesterday when they erected a “free speech wall” — a recently popular way for students to highlight the importance of free speech in which students put […]

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  • Policy protesters take down sign after use of profanity, damages

    September 22, 2011

    The ‘Free Speech Wall,’ elected as a form of protest against SHSU’snew social media policy, was taken down after a confrontation between a professor and student event organizers resulted in a section of the sign being cut out, according to police and event officials. A math professor, whose name has not been confirmed, complained to event organizers that sections of the sign reading “Fuck Obama,” and other such terms, were offensive and needed to be removed. Officials said after a verbal confrontation, the professor returned with a box-cutter and removed the section himself. University police were then called and collected information […]

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  • Proposed social media policy draws criticism from campus community

    September 15, 2011

    –Senior Reporter McKinzie Brocail contributed to this report– A newly proposed social media policy from the Marketing and Communication department has some student organizations, faculty and staff questioning the policy’s potential restrictions on Constitutional rights and the way in which it was created. The policy allows the university the right to remove any material from groups that might paint the university in a bad light. It immediately raised some concern among some members of the Faculty Senate. Read the Offical SHSU Media Policy and Procedures. Paul Loeffler, chair of the Faculty Affairs Subcommittee, said. “(The administration) cannot physically or financially, control all of the propaganda. I do […]

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  • Student at IU Attempts to Censor Fellow Students by Vandalizing Pro-Life Display

    October 1, 2013

    FIRE often exposes how colleges censor students—but last week, it was a student at Indiana University who decided to engage in some vigilante censorship by vandalizing a pro-life display. According to a student account, new student organization Students for Life at IU intended to have a peaceful demonstration on campus as part of an organized protest dubbed the “Planned Parenthood Project.” The trouble reportedly began when a student approached the demonstration, removed wooden crosses meant to represent the number of abortions performed daily by Planned Parenthood from the ground, and threw them into a trash can. (The student report includes a photo of this.) […]

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  • School’s Censorship Policy Doesn’t Fly

    October 5, 2012

    by Robert Shibley One News Now   An attorney believes a student-initiated free-speech effort got the point across to administrators at their Texas college. “The wall was put up in response to a policy at Sam Houston [that] was actually going to require all student groups to turn over their social media accounts to the university so that they could edit or delete comments that the groups made,” Shibley details. “And the students were understandably very upset about that.”Sam Houston State University students initiated the free-speech wall to protest the school’s policy that demands access to the students’ private social […]

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  • Robert Shibley on ‘Cam & Co.’ Tonight with Morgan Freeman!

    October 2, 2012

    In case you missed it, FIRE released a new video yesterday that’s making quite an impact! In it, Sam Houston State University student Morgan Freeman tells the shocking story of the free speech wall she organized along with four campus groups: how a professor literally cut out an anti-Obama comment with a utility knife and, when campus police supported the professor, how her group came to FIRE for help. Tonight at 10:20 p.m. Eastern time, Morgan will share her story live on the NRA News show “Cam & Company.” FIRE’s Senior Vice President Robert Shibley will join her to talk […]

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  • Need More Reasons to Watch FIRE’s Latest Video?

    October 1, 2012

    Hopefully you don’t need us to give you more reasons to watch FIRE’s newest video about the shocking censorship last year at Sam Houston State University, where a professor used a box cutter to remove profanity from a student-sponsored “free speech wall.” In case you do, though, FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff and Robert Shibley have a pair of columns for you. Writing for College Insurrection and The Daily Caller, respectively, Greg and Robert make the case for defending expression on campus even when many might see it as having little or no value. As Greg writes, “I am in full agreement […]

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  • New FIRE Video: College Professor Censors Anti-Obama Comment on Free Speech Wall

    October 1, 2012

    Last year, college censorship took a turn for the ridiculous when a professor at Sam Houston State University vandalized a student-sponsored “free speech wall” with a box-cutting knife to remove anti-President Obama speech he didn’t like. When the students complained about the vandalism to the campus police, the police took the professor’s side and demanded still more censorship, leading students to dismantle the wall. Morgan Freeman, the student who organized the protest, recounts this amazing and disturbing story in FIRE’s latest video. (Warning: strong language.)

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  • ‘Problem’: Offensive speech. ‘Solution’: Censorship and vandalism?

    October 1, 2012

    by Robert Shibley The Daily Caller   Because of the uproar over the YouTube video that was said to have led to uprisings against American interests in the Muslim world — including the death of our ambassador to Libya and three others — Americans are being confronted with a couple of unfortunate facts. First, while Americans generally tolerate all manner of offensive or annoying speech under the First Amendment, those in foreign lands often don’t have much tolerance for free speech. Second, while Americans at large widely scorn the idea that we should implement censorship in this country because some […]

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  • Thomas Jefferson Center Awards “Muzzles” to Censors at Catawba Valley, Sam Houston State

    April 12, 2012

    Every year since 1992, the good folks at the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression award their annual “Jefferson Muzzles” to recognize those across the nation “who in the preceding year committed some of the more egregious or ridiculous affronts to the First Amendment right of free speech.” And just about every year, a Muzzle or two ends up being awarded to someone on a college campus. Surprised? Neither are we!  This year, two schools earned well-deserved Muzzles by stifling student speech in shocking ways. Torch readers will remember that FIRE intervened in both cases.  First, the […]

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  • Sam Houston State Social Media Policy One of Most Read Stories of 2011 in ‘Chronicle’ List

    December 21, 2011

    Wired Campus, a technology-themed blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education, has published its “10 Most Popular Wired Campus Articles of 2011” list this week. Seventh on the list is an October feature on Sam Houston State University’s controversial social media policy, which sparked waves of student protest at SHSU, including a “free speech wall” event begetting its own controversies over free speech at SHSU. Fortunately, SHSU ultimately decided to ditch the proposed policy. The many thousands of reads garnered by Wired Campus’ writeup can’t have hurt the effort, and we’re glad to see that it reached so many people. 

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  • More on Sam Houston State Dropping Creepy Social Media Policy

    December 19, 2011

    Last week, eCampusNews drew attention to the news of Sam Houston State University’s (SHSU’s) decision to ditch its proposed social media policy. The policy, which would have required any student group bearing the SHSU name to join the university’s “social media universe,” was the subject of controversy and student protest. Under the proposed rule, those student groups choosing not to comply would have been required to change their groups’ names. The policy would also have required student groups to hand over their emails and passwords, and allowed administrators to edit student group pages. The abandonment of the policy is due […]

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  • Sam Houston State University Throws Out Controversial Social Media Policy

    November 17, 2011

    Last month, FIRE announced via a national press release that a professor at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) had used a box cutter to cut an insult against President Obama out of a “free speech wall” promoted by four student organizations across the political spectrum. The free speech wall had been erected (with permission from SHSU) in order to protest a proposed new social media policy. But when the students called the campus police after the professor’s act of censorship (and vandalism), an officer demanded that the students censor the wall or else face criminal charges for having offended the professor. […]

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  • Restrictive Social Media Policy at Sam Houston State U. Exposed at ‘eCampus News’

    October 7, 2011

    The website eCampus News has reported on the dual controversies swirling around Sam Houston State University (SHSU): the university’s deeply restrictive proposed social media policy and its outrageous censorship of a student “free speech wall.” The site’s Dennis Carter writes: The student backlash to the new policies culminated Sept. 22 when the disparate campus political groups sponsored a “free speech wall” and invited students to write anything they wanted on the wall – a protest against what students and free speech advocates have called a trampling of constitutional rights. “The social media policy is in theory optional, but if it means […]

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  • Professor Takes Box Cutter to Students’ Free Speech Wall at Sam Houston State University; Police Threaten Students with Charges over Profanity about President Obama

    October 6, 2011

    HOUSTON, Oct. 6, 2011—Two weeks ago, a professor at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) used a box cutter to cut an insult against President Obama out of a “free speech wall” promoted by four student organizations. When campus police arrived, an officer demanded that the students censor the wall or else face criminal charges for having offended the professor. The students have come to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. “This is an astounding example of the ‘heckler’s veto,’ where one professor decided he could dictate what everyone else is allowed to say—and the campus police actually […]

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  • Speech Code of the Month: Sam Houston State University

    October 3, 2011

    FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for October 2011: Sam Houston State University in Texas. Sam Houston State University’s (SHSU’s) Code of Student Conduct [.pdf] prohibits, as disorderly conduct, the use of “abusive, indecent, profane or vulgar language.” While a policy like this may seem at first blush to prohibit only low-value speech, FIRE’s current case at SHSU demonstrates that even core political expression is threatened by such a ban. As an initial matter, it is important to understand that profanity and vulgarity are entitled to constitutional protection.  In Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971), the U.S. Supreme […]

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  • SHSU Students Protest Social Media Policy With Signs, Slogans, and ‘Censored Free Speech Wall’

    October 3, 2011

      Photo by The Huntsville Item The fight for free speech continues at Sam Houston State University, where nearly a dozen students congregated in the center of campus last Wednesday in protest of SHSU’s new Social Media Policy and Procedures Manual. The event also served to protest the actions of professor Joe Kirk and the SHSU University Police Department regarding the vandalized free speech wall during the original protest of the controversial policy. Indeed, the same four student groups who organized the original protest were involved in planning Wednesday’s event. According to The Huntsville Item, protesters donned signs with slogans such […]

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  • At Sam Houston State University, Debate Over New Social Media Policy Rages On

    September 28, 2011

    Sam Houston State University’s (SHSU’s) proposed Social Media Policy and Procedures Manual is receiving anything but a warm welcome from students on campus. Opposition to the proposition has emerged in the form of protests planned today for the campus’ mall area, with the main event being a “censored free speech wall” that Morgan Freeman, president of the SHSU Lovers of Liberty, describes as being “basically a free speech wall but we are going to cover up ‘profane’ things.” Groups protesting the new social media policy include the SHSU Lovers of Liberty, Young Democratic-Socialists, Bearkat Democrats, and the College Republicans-the same […]

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  • SHSU President Says Free Speech Wall Vandalism by Professor ‘Under Investigation’

    September 27, 2011

    The past few days have brought public scrutiny to bear on Sam Houston State University (SHSU) after its police department not only failed to address student complaints over a professor’s vandalism—with a box cutter—of their “free speech wall,” but also threatened to charge the students with disorderly conduct on the basis of four-letter words written on the wall.  Late in the day on September 23, while readers nationwide were learning of the case in outlets such as The Daily Caller, SHSU President Dana Gibson sent a brief response to FIRE’s letter. Here it is in full: Sam Houston State University respects the principles of freedom of speech. […]

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  • Sam Houston State University Student Newspaper on Free Speech Wall Vandalism

    September 27, 2011

    Today, The Houstonian, a student newspaper at Sam Houston State University (SHSU), has a thorough article about the vigilante censorship of four student groups’ “Free Speech Wall” by SHSU professor Joe Kirk, and FIRE’s efforts on behalf of the wronged students. The article points out that student Morgan Freeman has filed a complaint about the vandalism with the university police, and that the report has been sent to the Huntsville Municipal Court. FIRE will be watching to see if SHSU takes this complaint as seriously as is warranted.

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  • Morgan Freeman, Student Censored in ‘Box Cutter’ Case, Speaks Out

    September 26, 2011

    Morgan Freeman, a student at Sam Houston State University and leader of the SHSU Lovers of Liberty, writes today on the Students for Liberty blog about her group’s experience with Kafkaesque campus censorship. As we reported on The Torch last week, when a professor took a box cutter to the group’s free speech wall, they reported his vandalism to campus police-who then threatened the students with a misdemeanor charge. This incident is not the first time that a free speech wall on campus has sparked controversy. In the 2010-2011 school year, FIRE reported on two other incidents involving free speech […]

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  • In ‘Daily Caller,’ Robert Rips on Sam Houston State ‘Box Cutter’ Case

    September 23, 2011

    FIRE has been quick to act on a ridiculous free speech case at Sam Houston State University (SHSU), where a professor took it upon himself to vandalize student speech on a “free speech wall” with no less than a box cutter. As Adam wrote earlier, we have already sent a letter to SHSU President Dana L. Gibson, informing President Gibson that the professor’s act-cutting out a section of the free speech wall where students had written “FUCK OBAMA,” due to his apparent disagreement with that message-betrays the freedom of speech to which SHSU students are entitled at the public university. This would have been […]

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  • Professor Cuts Out Insult to Obama on Students’ ‘Free Speech Wall’ with Box Cutter; Police Threaten Students with Misdemeanor for Public Profanity

    September 23, 2011

    Sometimes here at FIRE we think we’ve seen it all. Yesterday, however, we were shocked by the outrageous violations of free speech at Sam Houston State University (SHSU).   To protest a controversial new social media policy, four SHSU student groups organized a “free speech wall,” a large field of paper with a wooden frame, upon which students could write the message of their choice. Someone wrote “FUCK OBAMA” on one section of the wall, and other students replied in kind: “FUCK BUSH” followed, as well as other comments.  But what happened next is what’s so outrageous. An SHSU faculty member offended […]

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