Eastern gets green light for free speech

February 6, 2013

Eastern has received a green light from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for recent policy revisions that make the university more First Amendment friendly.

Mike Reagle, associate vice president for Student Affairs, described FIRE as a group that was founded to make sure students, faculty and staff’s rights are maintained at universities.

FIRE reviews school policies across the United States and highlights policies that are in violation of the First Amendment.

Samantha Harris, the director of speech code research at FIRE, said the green light classification Eastern just received means the school is no longer in violation of the First Amendment.

“What a green light school means is that none of those school policies infringe on students free speech rights,” Harris said. “The universities policies are now protective of student’s free speech rights.”

Eastern is now one of 16 colleges out of about 400 that have a green light rating, Harris said.

Reagle said Eastern had three policies that were flagged by FIRE as violating the First Amendment, two yellow lights and one red light.

The two yellow lights were for policies under the Student Code of Conduct and the red light was in an Information Technology policy.

The Student Handbook previously read, “Engaging in a course of conduct which is intended to harass, seriously annoy and alarm another person.”

Another part of the handbook read, “No one should either offend the wider community or infringe upon the rights and privileges of others.” The school’s Internet usage policy also said students shouldn’t offend others.

Reagle said it goes against the First Amendment to regulate student speech by saying students cannot “seriously annoy” someone and he said it is unnecessary to hold a student to judicial action for offending someone.

“Theoretically a student could be held to a judicial standpoint for offending somebody,”

Reagle said. “We didn’t want a student to be held to a judicial standard for being offensive.”

He said that the words used in the previous policy were too broad for regulating student conduct.

“There are lots of things that are offensive to some people that aren’t to others,” Reagle said. “Free speech sometimes is going to be offensive to people”

Eastern initiated contact with FIRE in August 2012 to begin making changes to policies and has been working on it on and off Reagle said. The Board of Regents approved the changes to the policies.

“We as a university want to support the rights to free speech,” Reagle said. “We’ve got to protect the right of people to say what they want to say.”

Schools: Eastern Kentucky University