Michigan State University: Department of Entomology’s Community Norms Implicate Students’ and Faculty's Essential Freedoms


Michigan State University

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Case Overview

FIRE Victory closed

In 2023, Michigan State University’s Entomology Department implemented Community Norms purporting to establish that MSU Entomologists “will” follow certain “norms” that effectively force faculty and students to ascribe to university endorsed ideas and function as subjective civility requirements. We wrote the department on October 23 to explain both that civility requirements invite abuse as a tool to selectively punish those whose views administrators may disfavor, and that compelling speech impinges on individuals’ scholarly autonomy and freedom to dissent. We also explained that the Community Norms are unconstitutionally overbroad and vague, as they ignore that “uncivil” speech enjoys First Amendment protection and fail to give notice of exactly what speech is “uncivil.” We urged the department to either remove or revise the Community Norms, or to add a statement making clear they are purely aspirational. MSU initially responded that the Community Norms comport with the First Amendment as they do not threaten adverse consequences for failure to comply, but after further FIRE advocacy, the department added language clarifying that the Community Norms “are not requirements, regulations, or rules.”