Speech Code of the Month at Indiana U-Southeast Featured by Fox News

By July 23, 2012

FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month at Indiana University Southeast (IUS) was highlighted by FoxNews.com on Friday in an article about campus speech codes. 

As quoted in the article, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley reminds readers of one reason why First Amendment protections on college and university campuses are important: "It’s the price you pay for living in a free society … The entire enterprise of a university is to express scholarly thoughts and opinions." 

Samantha Harris, FIRE’s Director of Speech Code Research, also weighs in, using as an example one particularly troublesome portion of the IUS speech code that says students may only "express opinions" within the university’s designated free speech zones. As Sam says, "IUS almost certainly doesn’t mean this—if you want to tell your friend that you think it’s hot outside, you have to go to the zone to do it … it’s an indicator of just how poorly written and unconstitutional this policy is."

Also worth noting in the article is another classic example of administrative confusion over how free expression works. Joseph Wert, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at IUS, told FoxNews.com that speech codes such as the one at IUS are necessary because the university has to "regulate other groups who come from off campus. Some come and preach a lot of hate. We just can’t have them wandering around campus with bullhorns over here." He goes on to say that "Governments have the right to restrict the time and place of these things … If they were regulating content—I’d have a problem with that."  

The implication in this statement is that having speakers "wandering around campus" won’t work because they might be preaching "hate." But it’s not the government’s place to determine what is hateful and what isn’t—it’s the place of civil society to do that. IUS students have nothing to fear from expression they find objectionable as long as they are left free to combat it with their own expression. As the poet John Milton famously asked in 1644, "who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?" IUS—and any university that claims to respect free speech—should allow those "free and open encounters" to take place on its campus.

Schools: Indiana University, Southeast