Last week, FIRE staffers flew out to Chicago to talk free speech, campus speech codes, academic freedom, and due process with hundreds of state legislators from across the country and the political spectrum at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Legislative Summit.
The summit is designed to bring state legislators and their staff together with experts from relevant fields to discuss a wide range of issues impacting their states. As an exhibitor, FIRE interacted directly with policymakers, discussed issues, and even showed them our Spotlight speech codes database so they could see for themselves how their local universities rank when it comes to protecting students’ First Amendment rights.
Legislators were either excited to see their state university included on the list of green light schools, or appalled to know the very same universities for which they appropriate millions of dollars each year were violating the free speech rights of their student-constituents. FIRE was also able to connect with quite a few lawmakers who were interested in eliminating free speech zones—designated areas of campus where schools often relegate students wishing to engage in expressive activity—in their states.
The summit was also a great opportunity for FIRE to talk to lawmakers about Title IX, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and how that office’s 2011 Dear Colleague letter (DCL) on Title IX is negatively impacting students and professors across the country. FIRE was unsurprised to discover that many policymakers—regardless of party or region—were still very confused about the DCL and its impact on student and faculty rights in higher education.
FIRE was pleased to meet so many lawmakers and their staff who are passionate about student rights on campus. As always, FIRE is happy to help. We hope to work with the legislators we met to help protect campus liberties, whether through speech code reform, ensuring due process for students in campus disciplinary proceedings, or through one of our other myriad resources. We look forward to attending the summit again next year in Boston.