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Ivy League Schools Stomp On Freedom Of Speech

November 20, 2015

By Kathryn Watson at The Daily Caller 

Five of the nation’s eight Ivy League schools impose huge restrictions on the First Amendment speech rights of their students, according to ratings from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

As allegations of racial discrimination fuel campus protests and spark free-speech challenges across the country, Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University and Princeton University all receive “red light” ratings — the worst in FIRE’s red, yellow and green light rating system — for having policies that significantly restrict free expression.

Yale University and Dartmouth College both receive “yellow light” ratings for having policies that could easily be interpreted to restrict free speech. The University of Pennsylvania is the lone Ivy League campus that gets a “green light” rating from FIRE.

There are only 18 other colleges across the nation that FIRE gave a green light in this year’s survey of 437 schools. The green-light rating means the school generally doesn’t interfere with campus speech rights.

The First Amendment only prohibits publicly funded institutions from restricting free speech. The Ivy League schools are private, but such institutions often promise respect for freedom of speech in their policy manuals.

It’s a “moral and contractual issue,” Samantha Harris, FIRE’s director of free speech code research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “You can’t lure people to campuses with the promises of free speech and academic freedom, and then turn around with censorship.”

“Over the years, Penn has come out in support of free speech in important situations where schools might back away from their commitment to free speech,” Harris told TheDCNF.

FIRE, founded in 1999, is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that defends students’ and professors’ rights to freedom of speech, legal equality, due process and religious liberty.

Yale in 2009 removed images of Mohammed in the draft of a book about the controversy and violence that ensued after a Danish newspaper published Muhammad cartoons in 2005. FIRE sent multiple letters to Yale, protesting its censorship, but Yale University Press published the book without the Muhammad images anyways.

Yale administrators also removed a pro-war sign that said, “Kill ’em all, Let God sort ’em out,” claiming it was offensive to Muslims and South Asians. Administrators reversed course after two op-eds in the Yale Daily News criticized the censorship.

Princeton in 2005 refused to recognize an off-campus religious group, Princeton Faith and Action, until FIRE wrote the university and demanded change.

Harassment policies are often the starting point for freedom of speech restrictions.

“Actual harassment is not protected speech,” Harris said, adding that the Supreme Court decided in 1999 a Title IX school is only responsible for addressing students’ behavior if harassment is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.”

But many universities’ policies, including those at some Ivy League schools, have stretched their policies far beyond that definition, defining harassment as anything a person perceives offensive.

Cornell’s definition of sexual misconduct, for example, includes when someone “caused you to feel uncomfortable by making gender-biased” comments. “Uninvited hugging” constitutes sexual harassment at Brown.

Nationwide, 55 percent of schools FIRE surveyed for 2015 received a red light, 39 percent received a yellow light, and 4 percent received a green light rating.

“Having to contend with arguments you disagree with is an important component of honing one’s argumentative skills,” Harris told TheDCNF.

Not apparently among the Ivies.

Schools: Columbia University Dartmouth College Harvard University Brown University Cornell University Princeton University Yale University Cases: Yale University: Protesters at Yale Threaten Free Speech, Demand Apologies and Resignations from Faculty Members Over Halloween Email