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FIRE investigative report: Alarming free speech climate at Tufts a warning to students at all private campuses (VIDEO)

Students who publicly support unpopular views at Tufts University do so at their own risk.

That’s the conclusion of our months-long investigation into the state of free speech at the elite Boston-area private school.

While not bound by the First Amendment, Tufts’ broadly speech-protective policies promise students the right to free speech. But a variety of other speech codes at Tufts — like its policies on email usage and sexual misconduct, as well as a bias incident reporting system that encourages students to anonymously report each other — render a wide swath of non-criminal speech off-limits. And these speech codes are being enforced.

Students have been systematically investigated, interrogated by police, and punished by Tufts for speech the university claims, generally, to permit. What’s more, numerous students told us the campus climate is “toxic” for free inquiry, with a passionate but small and exceptionally like-minded student body attempting to silence “offensive” or disfavored speech — even reporting it to administrators and police, or characterizing it as a literal act of “violence.”

These mutually reinforcing phenomena create a perilous combination for students who want to speak their mind at Tufts: Open disagreement isn’t just “social suicide” — it can get you in serious trouble.

The developments at Tufts first came onto FIRE’s radar last semester, after the school’s student government rejected a student-authored proposal asking Tufts to simply clarify the policies that conflict with the school’s firm, repeated commitments to free speech.

The astonishingly hostile reaction to that proposal — which some student leaders characterized as “unsafe” for having even been offered up for discussion — raised even more questions:

Are some topics simply not up for debate at Tufts? And is free speech one of them?

The answers are murky at best.

Our FIRE investigative report into what students can really say at Tufts should both unnerve anyone who cares about free speech and sound alarm bells — particularly for students considering enrollment at a private college or university.

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