Here at FIRE, we focus much of our attention on informing students of their rights on campus and how university policies can often be barriers to free expression. In a column in last Friday’s issue of the Kansas State Collegian titled “K-State’s speech code unconstitutional,” Kansas State University student Caleb Greinke brought attention to those concerns. FIRE currently gives Kansas State a “red light” rating, as the university maintains two red-light policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech (in addition to three yellow-light policies).
Caleb’s column mentions one of the biggest issues with restrictive speech codes on campus—the chilling effect they have on students wishing to express themselves. He writes:
The free speech codes function as an academic sword of Damocles. At any time, faculty and students know their dialogue can be arbitrarily deemed offensive, rude or otherwise undesirable. The ultimate result is a notable chilling effect on the exchange of ideas. How many honest students have not raised their hands in the knowledge their statements could be condemned and become the basis for suspension? Even if individuals do not have specific knowledge of the codes, they are always aware that certain opinions are not academically or socially permissible. Student clubs fret not over how the campus community will receive their activism, but whether the administration will exercise its arbitrary power to punish — and silence them.
Free inquiry and the debate of controversial ideas are essential to a successful academic community, and speech codes often serve to stop debate before it has even begun. In recognition of this problem, Caleb makes a plea for the abolition of Kansas State’s speech codes in favor of an academic community that is compliant with the First Amendment. He states:
Now is the time for K-State to remove the illegal and unenforceable speech codes. What better way for the university to affirm its commitment to the free exchange of ideas than eliminating the stifling laws that have earned it FIRE’s red light rating? As long as these laws are still respected by the university, students are not at liberty to exercise academic freedom, and K-State’s students and faculty will always be petrified by the specter of arbitrary retribution. Faculty, students and the Student Governing Association should work with Anderson Hall to rectify the threat to free expression.
FIRE applauds Caleb for raising awareness of the state of free speech at Kansas State. It is our hope that this column not only serves to inform the university community about the restrictive speech codes currently in place, but also inspires students to get involved in reclaiming liberty on their campus.