Free- Speech Group Criticizes Cal U Email Policy

June 13, 2015

By Bill Schackner at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

California University of Pennsylvania said Friday it will review its email usage policy in light of an assertion by a foundation that the rules conflict with the First Amendment.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which defends individual rights on college campuses, said in a statement issued Thursday that the policy’s “extraordinarily broad” language potentially subjects employees and students to discipline — including dismissal from the university — for any message an individual might consider inappropriate.

The organization, based in Philadelphia, dubbed Cal U’s policy as its “Speech Code” of the month. The foundation said it defines “Speech Code” as any campus regulation or policy forbidding “expression that would be protected by the First Amendment in society at large.”

The Cal U policy spells out a variety of unacceptable electronic messages, including those considered pornographic and obscene. It also includes as unacceptable “material that a reasonable individual may find personally offensive or inappropriate.”

The foundation said: “This extraordinarily broad policy leaves faculty and students at risk of punishment — up to and including ‘dismissal from the University’ — for sending virtually any message the content of which offends another person.”

Christine Kindl, a Cal U spokeswoman, said Friday, “We certainly have no intention of interfering with anyone’s free speech rights. Our legal counsel is now reviewing the policy.”

Cal U is one of 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education. Kenn Marshall, a system spokesman, did not know how many member campuses have email policies but was not aware of any First Amendment issues arising from those that do.

Samantha Harris, the foundation’s director of policy research, said her organization is pleased to learn that Cal U is looking anew at its policy and is ready to work with the school if it decides to make changes.

The foundation said courts in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which includes Pennsylvania, have held that speech codes on public university campuses violate the First Amendment.

Schools: California University of Pennsylvania