ACTA Report Features FIRE Speech Codes Analysis

January 28, 2014

Yesterday, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) released a report finding that many colleges are “fail[ing] to live up to their reputations in several crucial areas of academic quality and campus management.” In addition to discussing course topics and money management, the report asks the question: “Do schools promote a free exchange of ideas?” The answer is overwhelmingly “no.” Of the 25 top-ranked liberal arts colleges ACTA reported on that FIRE has rated in our Spotlight database, none of them earned a “green light” rating. That means that all of these institutions maintain written policies that can be used to punish or chill constitutionally protected speech.

As ACTA emphasizes in its report, and as FIRE notes daily, the free exchange of ideas is essential to a liberal arts education. Using several institutions as examples, the report illustrates how even colleges that enthusiastically promise free speech on campus have taken actions to shut down debate, under policies prohibiting broad ranges of expression such as that deemed “inappropriate” or “infring[ing] on [a person’s] dignity.”

“Students,” the report concludes, “are not learning how to think, but what to think.” FIRE commends ACTA on bringing more attention to this serious problem on campuses across the country. ACTA’s report, titled “Education or Reputation?,” is worth reading in full.