It’s a real pleasure for us to take a break from scolding universities for breaking their free speech promises to focus instead on praising those universities that set an admirable example when it comes to respecting student speech. As I always say to students, faculty, and administrators, all of us here at FIRE are more than happy to work collaboratively to fix speech codes and stop campus speech controversies before they start. The "Best Colleges" list is fun for us because it gives us a chance to recognize the great work of those schools that take student speech seriously.
In that spirit, I’m pleased to note that students at the institutions we honored this week are proud of their college’s inclusion on the list, too.
For example, check out this editorial from The Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia’s student newspaper. Explaining how UVa earned its "green light," the managing board writes:
We often think free speech means having the freedom to misquote Jefferson. But the story of the foundation at the University actually embodied his pillars of expression and student self-governance. Cavalier Daily alumna Ginny Robinson worked with the foundation and Dean of Students Allen Groves to alter University codes. We went from a "red light" in 2010 to two consecutive years of "green light," meaning we lack any censorious policies. There are only 16 "green light" colleges, and our trip from red to green wasn’t too difficult.
In an email, Groves explained the changing of signals. A foundation representative, invited by students, had traveled to Grounds to speak. Groves listened, and then asked the foundation why we had a red light. The foundation responded in turn. So, Groves worked to correct the policies, and the University got the green light, making us something of a darling for the foundation and a template for other colleges. The foundation proclaimed us one of the seven best colleges for free speech Thursday, for the second consecutive year since the list of top colleges started.
Wisely, The Cavalier Daily‘s editorial also notes that students must continue to monitor how UVa applies its green light policies, concluding that "[a]lthough we should celebrate another award from the foundation and the work done in 2010, a green light is just a signal unless we have the drive." Equally encouraging is a comment on the editorial left by a prospective transfer student, who states that in deciding which school to attend, "the fact that UVA has worked with FIRE in this regard is a big tie breaker for me." That’s great news for UVa and a smart decision by the student. The Cavalier Daily has more coverage of UVa’s speech policies here, with solid quotes from Dean of Students Allen Groves.
Elsewhere, The Society for the College at The College of William & Mary offers praise for William & Mary’s inclusion on the list for the second straight year. The Daily Pennsylvanian at the University of Pennsylvania does likewise, reporting that Penn is the only Ivy League school on the list. As FIRE’s Robert Shibley tells the paper:
"First and foremost, Penn has maintained policies that maintain freedom of expression on its campus," FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley said. "Penn’s a private university and it doesn’t have to protect student speech, but it makes a point to do so."
Robert also credited FIRE Co-founder Alan Charles Kors, a history professor at Penn, for driving Penn’s commitment to free speech. And writing for KnoxNews.com, Megan Boehnke covers the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s inclusion for her blog Campus Connect. Back in the Old Dominion, Fredericksburg.com’s editorial board is fired up about the number of Virginia schools on FIRE’s list, writing that "[t]he fact that three of the seven top schools are Virginia universities would make our forefathers proud." Finally, Mississippi State University makes proud note of its place on our list on its official website.
We’re very pleased to see the seven chosen schools receive the positive headlines they deserve, and we’ll keep updating you on the coverage as it rolls in.