Writing for The Dartmouth, student Brendan Woods is pleased to note Dartmouth College's status as one of the 12 schools in our most recent national survey of college speech codes to receive FIRE's green-light rating (a designation, by the way, that did not come without a lot of work on FIRE's part). Most of Dartmouth's peer institutions, on the other hand, did not make out nearly so well, with the Ivies coming in for particular scrutiny. Brendan writes:
Given that free speech is at the heart of the academic process, one would expect colleges and universities to be the most fervent defenders of the First Amendment. A recent report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, however, questions that assumption. FIRE reported that 67 percent of the nation's universities have speech codes that restrict freedom of speech on campus. Five Ivy League schools received a "red light," signifying substantial restrictions of students' freedom of speech.
At Harvard Law School, administrators shut down a student comedy show that poked fun at professors, saying that the students' parodies were violations of Harvard's harassment policy. Columbia's Teachers College evaluates its students based on how well they demonstrate a commitment to diversity and social justice, effectively grading them on their political and moral beliefs. Some of the violations FIRE cites are trivial-in 2009 a Yale dean nixed student plans to distribute t-shirts emblazoned with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald that called Harvard men "sissies"-but others are more serious. There have been documented cases of discrimination against campus religious groups at Princeton and Brown, where certain campus ministries were de-recognized or denied rights given to secular student groups and other religious organizations. [Links added.]
Despite Dartmouth's green-light rating, Woods doesn't think Dartmouth should put its feet up. We note on our site that "[a] green light does not indicate that a school actively supports free expression." Woods echoes this in concluding that "[t]he FIRE report is an opportunity for the College to pat itself on the back. However, the report reminds us that freedom is more than a formal commitment." Indeed, a green-light rating isn't the finish line—ideally, it's where colleges should begin.
Thanks to Brendan Woods for drawing attention to campus speech codes in his column. If you're interested in seeing how your school did this year, you can read Spotlight on Speech Codes 2011: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation's Campuses here.