Report: ‘Sad state’ for campus free speech

December 7, 2006

At the University of Mississippi, “anyone using offensive language” on the telephone can be referred to campus police. And someone who exhibits “behavior that annoys” at William Paterson University in New Jersey could be violating disorderly conduct rules. Those are just two examples of “the sad state of free speech” on campuses today, says a report released Wednesday by the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Its review of 334 schools says 69% had at least one policy last year that “clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” The survey examined 150 schools at the top of U.S. News & World Report’s rankings and 184 public universities. Just eight schools had no apparent policies restricting speech, it found. Sheldon Steinbach, an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in higher education, says conduct codes were created not to stifle speech but to ensure civil behavior in an environment where values can clash. But foundation president Greg Lukianoff says such policies have a chilling effect: “The speech code itself is the harm.”