Bemidji State Revises ‘Speech Code of the Month,’ Sheds ‘Red Light’ Rating

June 18, 2013

On June 5, FIRE announced that Minnesota’s Bemidji State University was our June 2013 Speech Code of the Month for language in its student conduct code prohibiting "offensive" speech. Happily, less than a week later, Bemidji State tweeted at FIRE a notification that it had revised the objectionable language in its code.   When we named it Speech Code of the Month, the relevant section of Bemidji State’s conduct code prohibited engaging in any offensive, obscene or abusive language, or in boisterous or noisy conduct reasonably tending to arouse alarm, resentment, or anger in others on University-owned or controlled property or at University sponsored or supervised activities.  The university quickly removed the speech-restrictive language from that section, which now prohibits [c]onduct that is disorderly, lewd, or indecent; breach of peace; or aiding, abetting, or procuring another person to breach the peace on University premises or at functions sponsored by, or participated in by, the University or members of the academic community. Since this policy no longer addresses speech, FIRE has removed it from Spotlight altogether. This had been Bemidji State’s only "red light" policy, so the university no longer earns an overall red light rating. The university still maintains, however, a number of "yellow light" policies (including a policy (PDF) requiring all student demonstrators to obtain a permit in advance from the university) that restrict student speech—not as severely as the old Speech Code of the Month policy but enough to prevent the university from earning FIRE’s highest rating, a "green light."   Since Bemidji State’s administration seems so amenable to revising its policies to better protect student speech, we would like to encourage the administration to work with FIRE to revise its remaining yellow light policies and become Minnesota’s first green light institution! In the past, we have collaborated successfully with universities such as the University of Virginia, the University of Mississippi, and Eastern Kentucky University to bring all of their policies in line with the First Amendment, and we hope to have many more such collaborations in the future, perhaps starting here! 

Schools:  Bemidji State University