FIRE's Tyler Coward (fourth from left) with students at California Polytechnic State University.
I recently took a 12-day trip to California, during which I spoke to students at nine colleges about their free speech rights on campus. As you can see in FIRE’s Spotlight database, California currently has 14 “red light” institutions and 27 “yellow light” colleges. I was able to present at two red light universities, including the University of California, Santa Barbara, which FIRE named our “Speech Code of the Month” back in September. I also spoke at four yellow light schools and three colleges that are not yet rated by FIRE.
The purpose of my presentations was to educate students about their free speech rights on campus and to highlight restrictive speech codes at each institution. I also suggested ideas for how students can work to revise policies at their schools. Throughout the trip, dozens of students joined the FIRE Student Network, signaling broad support for our mission at those universities. Since my return, students have shown their eagerness to advocate for free speech on their campuses. Several students have contacted me about getting involved in speech code reform, while others have signed a petition to encourage their colleges to adopt the University of Chicago’s terrific free speech statement.
Students at several colleges expressed concern that campuses are increasingly unwelcoming to the free flow of ideas. While there are some students who dare to speak out, several of whom attended the presentations, many students are choosing to remain silent rather than risk punishment by their universities. That’s why on-the-ground outreach to students, informing them of their constitutional rights and arming them with legal and philosophical defenses of free speech, is so critical for combating the illiberal impulses of too many college administrators.
This speaking tour through California was made possible because of dedicated students interested in promoting and defending free speech on campus. If you’re a student and want to help coordinate a tour through your state, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.