University of Alaska schools reviewed for free speech policies

January 20, 2014

FAIRBANKS — The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit civil rights group, concluded in a study of United States universities that nearly two thirds of schools maintain policies that infringe on student’s free speech rights.

The foundation surveyed 427 policies in place at 427 public and private universities and examined reported cases of recent civil rights issues at those schools. It then rated each school in one of three categories: green light, yellow light or red light.

The majority of the school’s surveyed, 250, received red light ratings, the worst possible, while 152 received yellow light scores. Only 16 schools received green light scores.

“Speech codes — policies prohibiting student and faculty speech that would, outside the bounds of campus, be protected by the First Amendment — have repeatedly been struck down by federal and state courts for decades,” the report states. “Yet they persist, even in the very jurisdictions where they have been ruled unconstitutional; the majority of American colleges and universities maintain speech codes.”

The three four-year schools in the University of Alaska system received reviews by the foundation — none received green light scores.

University of Alaska Fairbanks received a yellow light rating from the foundation based on its policies as of February 2013. A yellow light school “maintains policies that could be interpreted to suppress protected speech or policies that, while clearly restricting freedom of speech, restrict only narrow categories of speech,” according to the foundation.”

The foundation cited several policies in its yellow-light determination, including the school’s harassment policies and dorm room decoration policy.

UAF’s dorm decoration policy states that decorations must be consistent with the university’s acceptable standards and should not be visible to the public. It also gives discretion for removal to residence hall assistants.

UAF received a positive rating from the foundation for its free speech policy, which accords all students their constitutional rights to free speech.

In its report, the foundation cited numerous past reports on UAF in the news, including its recent review of the student newspaper, The Sun Star for two articles it ran in its April Fools edition last year.

University of Alaska Southeast also received a yellow-light rating from the foundation. University of Alaska Anchorage received a red-light rating.

View this article at The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Schools: University of Alaska Fairbanks