Advisory: Threats to student rights while campaigning on college campuses

February 24, 2020

With primary season in full swing, FIRE issued the following advisory today to all the major presidential campaigns, as well as individual state campaign organizations.


The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending freedom of expression on college campuses. FIRE is concerned about the potential for censorship of student political speech on our nation’s college and university campuses during the 2020 election cycle. 

Each presidential campaign season brings attempts to censor political speech on campus. In 2008, the University of Illinois informed all employees, including part-time student-employees, that they could not even wear partisan stickers or buttons while on campus. In 2012, Ohio University punished students for displaying posters critical of both parties’ candidates. And just this past presidential cycle, Georgetown University’s law school prohibited students from tabling for a candidate on campus.

FIRE is asking campaigns to educate students about their rights while campaigning on campuses, and to encourage them to call on FIRE for assistance if and when those rights are violated. 

Quick facts for students campaigning on campus:

  • Students and student organizations enjoy full First Amendment rights of free expression and association on public college campuses
  • Students at private universities enjoy the freedoms promised them by handbooks, codes of conduct, and other published policies. The vast majority of private universities promise free speech.
  • A university’s 501(c)(3) tax exemption does not require students, student groups, or student newspapers to avoid advocating for or endorsing candidates.
  • Student groups at public universities may not be denied access to funding or university resources (including student fee funding) simply because their cause is “political.”
  • Student groups may post political commentary or hyperlinks on their own university-affiliated websites, or on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

More information about these issues can be found in FIRE’s FAQ for Political Speech on Campus and our more detailed 2020 Policy Statement on Political Speech on Campus

If your campaign’s student organizers or supporters are being censored or otherwise restricted from engaging in political expression on their campuses, please contact FIRE at thefire.org/alarm, or urge them to do so, as soon as possible. 

Questions? Email fire@thefire.org or call us at (215) 717-3473.