Some colleges need to take free-speech classes, according to survey

By December 21, 2012

The Watchdog Blog

Many of America’s colleges appear to need to take a few courses in free speech.

More than 60 percent of the 400-plus colleges and universities studied by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have policies that restrict students’ First Amendment rights.

In a report released this week, FIRE also raised concern over federal and state regulations governing bullying and harassment that the report labeled sloppily written and implemented.

To be fair, FIRE acknowledged that the number of schools with “red light” free-speech codes has declined for the fifth straight year. And more schools eliminated their restrictive speech policies in 2012, earning FIRE’s “green light” rating.

FIRE is a nonprofit foundation which recruits experts in civil rights and civil liberties, journalists, and public intellectuals to support the rights to freedom of expression, academics and due process at U.S. colleges and universities. Each year, they study schools’ policies as part of its mission.

Highlights from this year’s survey

  • 62.1% of schools surveyed have speech codes that fail to meet First Amendment standards. That’s not a great average, but five years ago, schools earned a 75% failure rate.
  • The state with the best rate for free speech on campus: Virginia, with 37.5% of schools rated “green light” for advancing free speech. Illinois and Texas were among the worst states; 100 percent of Illinois’ surveyed schools failed FIRE’s litmus tests.
  • UC Riverside improved from year to year. In the 2010-11 survey, the school earned “red light” status, which rose to “yellow light” in the 2011-2012 report, meaning the school enhanced free speech policies on campus.
  • Cal State San Bernardino earned the same level of improvement, according to the report, earning “yellow light” status. San Bernardino’s Cal State peers in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Fullerton, Fresno and Long Beach, however, remained at “red light” levels in the survey.
  • Overall, a little less than half of California schools failed the free-speech test.

The complete report is available here.

Schools: California State University – Long Beach University of California – Riverside California State University – San Bernardino California State University – Sacramento California State University – Los Angeles California State University – Fullerton California State University – Fresno