Greg Lukianoff on Changes in Campus Free Speech in ‘The Huffington Post’

August 15, 2013

In 2003, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff and co-founder Harvey Silverglate published an article (PDF) in The Chronicle of Higher Education discussing the state of free speech in higher education and the prevalence of speech codes on college campuses. Since then, FIRE has been remarkably successful in fighting unconstitutional speech codes through litigation and public awareness campaigns. In an article for The Huffington Post published last week, Greg asks, “What has changed since our 2003 article, and what does that change—or lack thereof—mean for our nation’s campuses?” A decade later, Greg discusses the progress that has been made and, more importantly, the changes that still must come for free speech to flourish in higher education. Greg explains that despite FIRE’s numerous successes, “at the overwhelming majority of American colleges, speech codes still remain the rule, not the exception.” Despite the blatant unconstitutionality of speech codes, “campuses continue to go to court with codes that bear no relationship to the legal definition (nor the common sense essence) of harassment and then seem surprised when these codes are overturned.” Greg notes that the biggest difference between 2003 and today “is that the federal government has gone from trying to clarify the law and discourage speech codes to requiring them.” Just this year, in a letter to the University of Montana, “the Department of Education and the Department of Justice joined together to dramatically expand the definition of sexual harassment to any sex-related speech that could be labeled ‘unwelcome’; a wildly broad and vague standard.” This new “blueprint” could make campuses even more unwelcoming towards free speech, and the government’s move puts many of FIRE’s hard-won victories at risk. There is some good news, though: “Most of FIRE’s victories over speech codes result from our public awareness campaigns, not litigation,” and Greg argues that the public is more aware than ever of the need for change. For more insights about free speech and censorship in higher education, read the rest of article here or check out Greg’s book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate! Want to know more about the ED/DOJ “blueprint”  Check out FIRE’s Frequently Asked Questions here!  

Cases:  Departments of Education and Justice: National “Blueprint” for Unconstitutional Speech Codes