Speech Code Copy Cats?

By on June 24, 2008

Here at FIRE, we read a lot of student handbooks and codes of student conduct. We frequently note remarkable similarities in the language used by schools across the country.

At best, these similarities are the result of collaboration, such as Judicial Affairs summits where school representatives work together to hammer out the latest policy language on "Freedom of expression versus civility." At worst, it’s plagiarism, for there is rarely any acknowledgment that the language has been authored by anyone beyond the school itself.

Take, for instance, this unconstitutional speech restriction at the University of Florida:

The use of the DHNet Wired and Wireless service is a privilege that may be revoked at any time for inappropriate behavior. Such behavior would include but not be limited to the use of abusive or otherwise objectionable language and/or materials in either public or private messages.

Here’s the nearly verbatim language in Alvernia College’s Internet Use Policy:

The use of the Campus Internet Service is a privilege that may be revoked at any time for inappropriate behavior. Such behavior would include but not be limited to the use of obscene, abusive, or otherwise objectionable language and/or materials in either public or private messages.

Discovering this type of "borrowing" is something you can do at home. Find the speech restrictions of your choice on FIRE’s Spotlight resource, choose a key phrase, plug it into FIRE’s search engine (located in the upper right-hand part of the webpage) or a Web search engine, and there’s a decent chance it will turn up on another campus as well.