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Following speech shutdown, Transylvania students file grievance with university accreditor

Transylvania University.

Transylvania University. (James R. Martin/

Back in May, FIRE wrote to Transylvania University in Kentucky to voice our concerns about the institution’s apparently selective enforcement of its restrictive policy governing student speech on campus. We asked the school to explain why some students were allowed to speak where others were not and noted that the best course of action would be to simply abandon its unnecessary and illiberal speech code altogether. 

Transylvania sent us back an insubstantial, unserious response. In reply, we noted that (1) Transylvania hadn’t responded to our concerns and (2) that Transylvania’s actions are at odds with their accreditor’s requirements. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges requires accredited institutions to ensure “the right of students to access opportunities for learning and for the open expression and exchange of ideas.” 

Unfortunately, Transylvania never responded. Now, frustrated by the silence, Transylvania students have written SACSCOC directly. 

In a formal grievance filed with the agency this week, a Transylvania student writes:

Transylvania University has multiple policies that violate the fundamental speech rights of students, violating not only their own stated values, but also the spirit of education and SACSCOC’s very Philosophy of Accreditation. By restricting speech to a heavily obstructed quarantine zone and requiring a heavily bureaucratic permit process (Supporting Document 2a), Transylvania University has fostered a climate that is hostile to open expression, the exchange of ideas, and dissenting beliefs. Transylvania’s “Free Speech, Protests and Demonstration Policy” directly goes against the values of SACSCOC and devalues the liberal arts education Transylvania University promises. . . . By requiring permission slips to talk to other students (Supporting Document 1a, 1c), Transylvania University explicitly violates SACSCOC’s accreditation standards, their promise of free speech (Supporting Document 1b, 2bi, 3a, 3c), and the reasonable expectations of students. 

Given their standards, we hope SACSCOC will take student speech rights more seriously than Transylvania does. 

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