Table of Contents

Clemson University earns top rating for free speech

Clemson University

CLEMSON, S.C., June 17, 2024 — It’s a one-two punch for students’ ability to speak out. Another leading South Carolina university has earned the top rating for free speech from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

Clemson University is one of only two schools in South Carolina, and one of only 67 nationwide, that earn a “green light” rating from FIRE. Green light ratings are reserved for institutions with no written policies that seriously imperil student free speech rights.


“We are proud to be recognized by FIRE for our commitment to freedom of expression, individual rights and meaningful dialogue here at Clemson University,” said Clemson President Jim Clements. “Our dedication to ensuring our students, and all of our Tigers, have freedom of expression is a part of who we are and represents our University values and our culture.”

In February, Clemson reached out to FIRE to discuss how it could improve its speech code rating, a “yellow light” at the time. Clemson received this rating because it maintained five policies that could potentially be used to discipline students for speech protected under the First Amendment. Over the next few months, FIRE worked with Clemson to revise policies governing student conduct, posting, and harassment to ensure none endangered protected expression. 

Changing one word in the “purpose” provision of its student code of conduct made a world of difference for students’ ability to freely express themselves. Originally, the provision stated that Clemson students were expected “to show respect for civility, community and the rights of others and to exemplify the Clemson University core values of integrity, respect, diversity, patriotism, excellence and self-reliance.” Under the revised policy, students are encouraged to strive for these aspirational values. Now, the policy can no longer be used to punish students for uncivil or disrespectful expression that nevertheless falls within the bounds of the First Amendment.

Last spring, in advance of revising its written policies, Clemson’s board of trustees articulated the university’s commitment to free expression by adopting the “Clemson University Statement on Freedom of Speech.” This comprehensive statement promises students and faculty full First Amendment rights on campus. It also broadly affirms the intrinsic value of free speech on a university campus.

“These important changes mean the Clemson Tigers are free to roar knowing their First Amendment rights are secure and protected,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Mary Griffin, who collaborated with Clemson to revise its policies. “FIRE is thrilled to see Clemson putting its money where its mouth is by enacting new, speech-protective policies to ensure students can speak freely on campus.”

The last seven schools to earn green light ratings are all from the South: the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Tulsa, Radford University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Louisiana Tech University, the University of South Carolina, and Clemson. The written policies at these seven schools protect the expression of more than 144,000 students. 

FIRE regularly works with colleges and universities, free of charge, to revise their policies to ensure they meet First Amendment standards. And we’re eager to help more schools across the country earn a green light rating. Contact FIRE’s campus Policy Reform team today at

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.

One of the most productive public research universities in the nation, Clemson University attracts and powerfully unites students and faculty whose greatest desire is to make a difference in the lives of others. Ranked among the best national public universities by the Wall Street Journal, Clemson is dedicated to teaching, research and service. Our main campus, located in Upstate South Carolina, sits on 1,400 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the shores of Lake Hartwell. We have a presence in every South Carolina county through research facilities, economic development hubs and Innovation Campuses. Through the research, outreach and entrepreneurial projects led by our faculty and students, Clemson University is driving economic development and improving quality of life in South Carolina and beyond.


Jack Whitten, Media Relations Specialist, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

Alex Brooks, Director of Communications, Clemson University: (419) 351-0009; 

Recent Articles

FIRE’s award-winning Newsdesk covers the free speech news you need to stay informed.