TEMPE, Ariz., February 1, 2011—This week, Arizona State University (ASU) eliminated its unconstitutional speech code, earning a coveted "green light" rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). While more than two-thirds of the nation's colleges maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech, ASU is now a proud exception, having revised a policy that unconstitutionally restricted the free speech of students and student organizations on campus.
"Arizona State University should be commended for making this simple but important change to guarantee the First Amendment rights of its students," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "We hope that more colleges will follow its example and reform their codes to protect free speech."
FIRE first contacted ASU in September 2010 about its "Advertising and Posting" policy for student organizations. Because of its viewpoint restrictions, student groups taking unpopular views on controversial issues could easily have run afoul of the policy. In January, ASU General Counsel José Cárdenas notified FIRE that ASU would be revising the policy in light of FIRE's concerns. The new policy, instead of stating that advertising must not include certain types of controversial expression, provides that campus postings "should be consistent with ASU's policy of discouraging demeaning, sexual or discriminatory portrayal of individuals or groups." (Emphasis added.)
Cárdenas assured FIRE that the language change reflects the policy's aspirational nature and that students would not be punished under the policy for constitutionally protected expression.
ASU, with a total enrollment of more than 60,000 students, is the largest university to have a "green light" rating. Although only 14 schools have a "green light" rating, the list has grown in recent years. Both the University of Virginia and The College of William & Mary recently eliminated their speech codes to earn green lights.
"ASU and the other 'green light' schools are leading the way for free speech on campus," said Samantha Harris, FIRE's Director of Speech Code Research. "We hope that this exciting development will inspire other universities to work with FIRE to protect the free speech rights their students deserve."
In Arizona, FIRE is turning its attention to the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, which have "red light" policies that clearly and substantially restrict students' freedom of speech.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation's colleges and universities. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Samantha Harris, Director of Speech Code Research, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org