Syracuse University criticized for restrictive electronic communications policy

September 9, 2013

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has named Syracuse University its monthly "speech code" college of the month for September 2013.FIRE defines a "speech code" as any university regulation or policy that prohibits expression that would be protected by the First Amendment in society at large. FIRE has developed a system that uses ‘red,’ ‘yellow,’ and ‘green’ identifiers to rate how well policies at colleges and universities comport with the First Amendment. Syracuse University earned FIRE’s ‘red’ designation, its most restrictive speech code category.The Syracuse policy that FIRE criticizes is the university’s computing and electronic communications policy .The policy prohibits using the school’s computer systems to send "offensive messages," including "sexually, ethnically, racially, or religiously offensive messages.""This broad policy could apply to virtually any online expression that another person finds offensive, including serious discussions of politically charged topics like immigration, affirmative action, and gay marriage. As such, it is wholly inconsistent with Syracuse’s commitment to "freedom of discussion" and "the expression of dissent," the organization said in a statement.Syracuse University has not commented to FIRE’s criticism.FIRE’s cites several instances in recent years when the university threatened or censored free speech.One was when the university threatened a law student with serious disciplinary action for a blog satirizing law school life and expelled an education graduate student for complaining on Facebook about a racially charged comment made in his presence by a community leader.Another was when School of Education graduate student Matt Werenczak was expelled from its teaching program. Werenczak had complained on Facebook about a racially charged comment made in his presence by a community leader. Werenczak was eventually readmitted.FIRE is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization devoted to defending individual rights on America’s college and university campuses. It selects colleges for free speech criticism from proposals by students and faculty. Its website contains information on over 400 colleges and universities."Too many colleges and universities have attempted to outlaw speech and expression that do not conform to various "politically correct" campus orthodoxies," Fire’s website says. "The ‘marketplace of ideas’ upon which a university depends for its intellectual vitality cannot flourish when students or faculty members must fear punishment for expressing views that might be unpopular with the public at large or disfavored by university administrators."

Schools: Syracuse University