Report: Some school speech codes still stifling

February 10, 2014

by Bob Kellogg

Though FIRE’s 2014 report on campus speech codes contains good news, there’s bad news as well.

Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), reports that 59 percent of the 427 college and universities in the report still have policies that hamper and stifle students’ rights to free speech. He says such policies reduce the number of ideas that students can explore and examine.

“Whether it’s about controversial topics like abortion, or women in the military, or gay marriage, universities are declaring some things to be out of bounds,” he relays. “And that is the exact opposite of what a university is supposed to do.”

Another problem plaguing free speech on campuses is the federal government, as it has been sending mixed messages that create tension between a university’s dual obligation of protecting free speech and preventing discriminatory harassment.

“In the spring they attempted to define a huge swath of expression as sexual harassment,” Shibley recalls. “They’ve backed off since, but unfortunately it’s sending all the wrong messages about how we should take care of free speech in this country.”

The good news in the report is that for the sixth consecutive year, the percentage of schools with poor free speech policies has dropped.

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