FIRE Report: 49% of Colleges ‘Substantially Restrict’ Free Speech

December 11, 2015

By Anthony Hennen at Red Alert Politics

Though media coverage on campus and free speech have shown a worrying disregard for the First Amendment, campus restrictions on speech have reached a low point.

A new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that “less than half of America’s colleges maintain policies that severely restrict students’ right to free speech,” according to a press release.

The report noted that the decline in campus speech codes continued for its eight consecutive year, but it isn’t necessarily a secure or permanent victory for free speech. 49 percent isn’t exactly a low number.

“These hard-fought gains for student and faculty speech rights could be reversed if the federal government is left unchecked,” Samantha Harris, FIRE director of policy research, said.

Calls for restrictions on free speech, in fact, could come from the students themselves.

A recent Pew Research poll found that 40 percent of millennials think the “government should be able to prevent” people from saying offensive statements about minorities. While 58 percent think “people should be able to say these things publicly,” millennials were the age group most likely to support restrictions.

The turn toward speech restrictions for offensive statements is worrying because many of those restrictions get extended to stifle politically unpopular speech. Other restrictions, such as housing codes, can be used in similar ways, as a George Washington University student recently found out. Overly broad sexual harassment policies have been used to a similar effect.

“Public pressure is still perhaps the most powerful weapon against campus censorship, so it is critical that students and faculty understand their rights—and are willing to stand up for them when they are threatened,” the FIRE report claimed.

If students embrace speech restrictions based on sensitivity and other limitations, so long as good intentions drive the rules, opposing campus censorship will be an uphill battle. If students acquiesce, they will become the worst enemy of academic freedom.

Schools: George Washington University