Free speech on campus is less free than we think

January 22, 2014

by Melanie Gray Smith

According to a new annual report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), most college campuses restrict students’ protected free speech rights. The reportSpotlight on Speech Codes 2014: the State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses, reveals that a high percentage of campuses have policies that “clearly and substantially” limit students’ free speech rights. While almost 60 percent of the 427 colleges and universities studied maintain policies that seriously interfere with student free speech rights, that percentage has actually dropped for six consecutive years from when it was 17 percent higher.Public colleges fare better in student free speech than private ones. The First Amendment does not legally bind private colleges, so many of these campuses are restrictive. Students are you listening? According to the report’s findings 62 percent of private colleges limit student free speech, as compared to 58 percent of public campuses.

The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at American colleges and universities, including freedom of speech, due process, and religious liberty, among others. The report is enlightening and an interesting and informative read. Also included in the report is a listing of all schools studied using a rating system of red, yellow, and green lights. The system identifies institutions with at least one clearly restrictive policy (red), to possible interpretation of restricting protected speech (yellow), to policies that do not seriously restrict campus free expression (green).

Also discussed are confusing federal government messages about the relationship between harassment and free speech, and their potential impact on campus speech policies.

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