Ole Miss now more free speech-friendly

By January 26, 2012

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, better known as FIRE, has awarded a "green light" rating to the University of Mississippi for revising its restrictive speech codes.

Samantha Harris of FIRE says one of the policies Ole Miss revised was its prohibition on "hateful" Internet expression. She says the term "hateful" is too subjective and open to selective enforcement.

"With the restriction on any expression that might be deemed ‘hateful,’ particularly without any definition of what that means, that is likely to have a serious chilling effect on student expression," she says. "And since a lot of student expression does take place over the Internet, that policy is very broad."

But university officials have rewritten the policy to eliminate the vague restrictions, and now only constitutionally unprotected free speech is prohibited. The FIRE spokeswoman recognizes that most schools have good intentions when they write these policies, but they are not always well thought out.

"The people who write these policies don’t always understand the intersection of these restrictions with the First Amendment and what their obligations are in terms of protecting students’ free-speech rights," Harris notes. "And they don’t even always understand the implications of these policies."

She points out two-thirds of the nation’s colleges have policies that substantially restrict free speech. The University of Mississippi has become the 16th school in the nation to earn the highest rating from FIRE.