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Despite original announcement, University of Florida says it did not investigate pro-Kanye chalk messages

Students walk through the entrance sign at University of Florida

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UF confirmed to FIRE that a previously announced investigation of messages deemed hateful and anti-Semitic did not take place, and that the university does not discriminate against controversial viewpoints.

On Feb. 1, chalk messages appeared on campus sidewalks reading “Ye is Right,” “Students for Ye,” “Ye 24,” and “Ye for President.” The messages have been used at three universities this year to announce two right-wing provocateurs’ upcoming presence on campus and to reference rapper Kanye West’s comments disparaging Jewish people.  

UF’s then-President Kent Fuchs released a statement condemning “these and all acts of antisemitism, hatred and intolerance,” and announced the university police department had initiated an investigation into the messages. A week later, former Sen. Ben Sasse replaced Fuchs as president.

Before that transfer of power occurred, however, FIRE wrote UF on Feb. 3 explaining that while the university could investigate and remove the chalk messages because they violated UF’s content-neutral time, place, and manner policies, Fuchs’ statement implies that similar messages would not be permitted on campus even if they were in compliance with those policies. We further explained that Fuchs’ statement almost certainly chilled students’ speech on campus in violation of the First Amendment.

Earlier this week, the university said it never initiated an investigation and will not investigate similar speech in the future. This welcome and timely reassurance more closely tracks UF's commitment to free expression, as its policies protecting students’ First Amendment rights earn FIRE’s  highest “green light” rating.

We commend UF for refusing to investigate protected speech and confirming that it’s committed to respecting students’ expressive rights, even when they espouse controversial views. We look forward to continuing to work with UF to protect free speech on campus.

FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re a faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734).

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