The Free Speech Guide to Picking a March Madness Bracket

March 20, 2013

We’re on the cusp of March Madness again, that special time of year when everyone’s alma mater – and those we love to hate – send their unpaid student-athletes into basketball battle to see which school has attracted the best crop of amateurs for yearlong bragging rights.

We here at Townhall have our own little pool going (don’t ask about our respective picking abilities – please), but just for the benefit of you, the conservative reading public, I’ve compiled what I’m calling "The Free Speech Guide to March Madness." For while the NCAA tournament is a lot of fun, political correctness gone mad in America’s institutions of higher learning is not.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) keeps a list of some of the universities that most egregiously limit students’ First Amendment rights. From speech codes to conduct handbooks to politically-driven protest policies, universities across the country routinely go overboard in promoting political correctness – and punishing students for nonconformity. FIRE rates universities on a red-yellow-green scale of friendliness to free speech – and we’re bringing you theri ratings, team by team for March Madness.

A good example of FIRE’s work is in its "Red Alert" ratings for two March Madness teams, Bucknell and Michigan State:

Bucknell University

Bucknell University was named to FIRE’s Red Alert list after a conservative student group’s protests against affirmative action policies and President Obama’s stimulus plan were repeatedly shut down or forbidden by administrators using flimsy or patently false excuses. After the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC) had three events censored in two months, including the distribution of "Obama Stimulus Dollars" and affirmative action bake sales, the students turned to FIRE for help.

Michigan State University

Michigan State University (MSU) joined FIRE’s Red Alert list after finding student government leader Kara Spencer guilty of "spamming" and misuse of university resources for criticizing the administration’s plan to change the school calendar. Spencer had carefully selected and e-mailed 391 faculty members to encourage them to express their views on the proposed changes. Despite the fact that Spencer merely wished to alert a small percentage of the campus community—roughly 8 percent of MSU’s faculty—to an important administrative decision, MSU found her to be in violation of the university’s Network Acceptable Use Policy and of engaging in an "unauthorized" use of the MSU network. After FIRE intervened, MSU dropped the charges but made its policy even more restrictive.

An important note: Michigan State was recently downgraded to Yellow from Red for important corrections to their speech code violations. The above is merely a good representation of how a school becomes a Red violation school.

For the sake of convenience, here’s the rules that we’ve used to pick each school:

1.: The better rating wins: Green ratings beat yellow, yellow beat red. Pretty easy. 
2.: In the case of a tie in the rating, the higher seed wins. This is to keep our bracket from getting, well, too crazy. 
3. Schools without a rating will be treated as in-between yellow and red. There are precious few schools with green ratings from FIRE, which just reflects that free speech on campuses across the country is in pretty bad shape. But it wouldn’t quite be fair to put unrated schools in the red category either – they haven’t done anything to get there. So we’ll assume an intermediate rating between yellow and red for unrated schools. 
4.: The play-in games in the round of 64 are treated as

We’re still going to end up with a bit of a wacky bracket. There are only two schools in the tournament this year – James Madison University and the University of Mississippi – who got green ratings, and only one of those is not a play-in game team. Regardless, brackets are crazy – you might win with one like this! I’ve noted what teams are red, yellow, and green on the small brackets below:

 

Some notables before we begin: The East and West regionals are tied with the most "Red Light" schools, with 7 apiece out of 16 teams. These include such free speech violators as Harvard, Notre Dame, Ohio State, University of Miami, and Syracuse. Duke, the school that everyone loves to hate, gets only a Yellow warning from FIRE.

Two of the NCAA tournament’s #1 seeds – Louisville and Kansas – get red ratings from FIRE. Parents beware!

Our free speech Elite Eight schools are Duke (2) and Oklahoma State (5) out of the Midwest regional, Ole Miss (12) and Arizona (6) out of the West regional, UNC (8) and Florida (3) out of the South regional, and Indiana (1) and Colorado (10) out of the East regional. Ole Miss, as the only green-rated school from FIRE, is your free speech tournament champion. As the Columbus Dispatch reported:

Sparky Reardon, dean of students at Ole Miss, said this was case in Oxford prior to the beginning of the spring semester, when the university found out it had been given the "green light."

"The only thing that was holding us back was the wording in our policy," Reardon said. "That is the case with a lot of people, too. It’s just not understanding the words and expressions regarding free speech."

Find the final free speech bracket below – I used ESPN’s bracket creation tool to fill this out.