Letter from FIRE to University of Nevada, Las Vegas President Neal Smatresk, March 27, 2012

March 27, 2012

President Neal J. Smatresk
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Office of the President
Box 451001
4505 S. Maryland Parkway
Las Vegas, Nevada 89154 

Sent via U.S. Mail and Facsimile (702-895-1088)

Dear President Smatresk:

As an alumnus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) from the class of 2000, I write you today to follow up on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE’s) letter to you from nearly a year ago, discussing UNLV’s policies restricting student expression. Disappointingly, UNLV has failed to respond to FIRE’s letter during the past year, or to revise its policies to meet First Amendment standards. The continued maintenance of these policies represents an abandonment of UNLV’s moral and legal obligations as a public university to uphold the freedom of speech of its students. Moreover, the policies undermine the mission of an institution presumptively committed to intellectual rigor, robust debate, and maintaining a free and vibrant community, all institutional aspirations during my time at UNLV. Accordingly, I write you today to urge you to revise these policies.

As we explained in our letter of April 19, 2011, a copy of which I have attached here for your reference, UNLV’s "Statement on Diversity in the University Community" and its Office of Information Technology policy on "Student Computer Use" impermissibly ban student speech protected by the First Amendment. FIRE rates both of these policies as "red light" speech codes, which we define as policies that clearly and substantially restrict constitutionally protected speech. (You can read FIRE’s full explanation of our speech code ratings at http://thefire.org/article/5823.html, and you can view FIRE’s policy-by-policy ratings for UNLV’s speech codes at http://thefire.org/resources/spotlight/codes/974.html.)

By revising these two policies to pass constitutional muster, UNLV would improve its speech code rating to a "yellow light." While that would still leave UNLV with some work to do to achieve FIRE’s best, "green light" rating for free speech—in addition to these policies, the university already maintains three "yellow light" policies—the  improvement to a "yellow light" rating would in itself be a significant achievement. If it were to reform these two "red light" policies, UNLV would not only demonstrate its willingness to stand up for students’ fundamental rights, but would be in line for public recognition and praise for doing so from FIRE. Indeed, we would be pleased to bring public attention to UNLV’s efforts to uphold freedom of expression on its campus. 

I hope you will take the necessary steps to revise both of these policies to bring them in line with the requirements of the First Amendment. Of course, FIRE stands ready to assist you with this policy revision, and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you for your attention and sensitivity to these important concerns. I hope to hear from you by April 17, 2012. 


Joseph Cohn
Legislative and Policy Director
UNLV, Class of 2000

Michael W. Bowers, Interim Executive Vice President and Provost, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Elda Luna Sidhu, General Counsel, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Lori Temple, Vice Provost for Information Technology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Juanita Fain, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Allen Lichtenstein, General Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada