George Mason University Joins Ranks of Other Universities in Respecting Free Speech: University Earns ‘Green Light’ Distinction, Updates Policies

April 23, 2015

By Mary Lou Byrd at The Washington Free Beacon

George Mason University has earned the high distinction of a “green light” rating for eliminating all of its speech codes and ensuring its policies comply with the First Amendment.

GMU received the highest rating from The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has worked with the university for the past decade on its speech codes.

It is the 20th university in the country to earn the green light rating out of the more than 400 colleges and universities in FIRE’s database.

“It’s always gratifying for FIRE to work with a university administration on improving its speech codes and to see that process brought to a successful completion,” said Azhar Majeed, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Education Program, in an email to the Washington Free Beacon.

“Not only does George Mason join an elite group of universities across the country, its students and faculty members benefit greatly by knowing that the university fully protects the right to free speech,” Majeed said.

FIRE said it hopes others follow GMU’s lead.

“We hope that other colleges and universities take note of this development and work with us to revise their own policies, so that open discourse and debate becomes the norm on college campuses,” Majeed said.

GMU Foundation Professor of Law Todd Zywicki was also an advocate for change on campus, echoing FIRE’s free speech concerns with leadership at the university.

“Freedom of speech and academic freedom are core values of a university’s mission,” Zywicki said in a prepared statement. “I’m delighted that George Mason has joined the ranks of universities that have committed themselves to the full protection of free speech.”

Zywicki thanked the administration for their “dedicated work in providing a context where students and faculty can express controversial ideas freely, and even inartfully, without fear of reprisal.”

FIRE has been advocating for speech code reform at GMU since 2005. In its first letter to the university president, FIRE indicated several of the university’s policies were unconstitutional. FIRE also referred to an incident against student and veteran Tariq Khan, who was arrested and charged after peacefully protesting near an army recruiting table.

Khan’s story made national headlines with the charges later dropped.

Several of GMU’s speech codes have been revised including a flyer posting policy, a sexual harassment policy, and student conduct codes. A policy GMU had on leaflets was also amended.

GMU also revised a bias incident policy that allowed for the reporting and punishment of constitutionally protected expression. Majeed said the university’s poster posting policy previously vaguely prohibited speech that was “inconsistent with the educational mission” of the university.

The university’s previous student code of conduct and sexual harassment policy also had imprecise definitions of sexual harassment—mainly they lacked a “reasonable person” standard, according to Majeed. The policy allowed for the punishment of protected speech that subjectively offended an overly sensitive person.

“We are very pleased that these policies, like all of George Mason’s previous speech codes, have been revised to fully protect First Amendment rights,” Majeed said.

 

Schools: George Mason University