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Northern Arizona University earns FIRE’s highest rating for free speech

Credit: Northern Arizona University

  • Northern Arizona University revises policies to become one of only 48 institutions nationwide to earn FIRE’s "green light" speech rating
  • Arizona becomes first state where all rated colleges earn the highest rating
  • For the first time, the number of students at schools with highest rating surpasses 1 million

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., Feb. 26, 2019 — While 9 in 10 colleges around the country restrict free speech, all rated universities in Arizona have earned the highest free speech rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Northern Arizona University recently revised its computer use policy, becoming the 48th institution to earn FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating for free speech in FIRE’s Spotlight database.

“Our university is a place of free thought, free speech, and freedom of expression. We uphold these values through our policies, and our practices,” said NAU President Rita Hartung Cheng. “Welcoming a diversity of opinions is a fundamental aspect of the learning experience. Expressing and testing our ideas in conversation, discussing both the issues of our time and the issues of all time, being open to intellectual challenge and response, and learning from each other are the hallmarks of our university community. I am thankful for FIRE’s review of our policies and their collaboration to ensure we continue to foster freedom of speech.”

The University of Arizona earned the rating late last year, and Arizona State University earned the rating in 2011. All three of Arizona’s public four-year institutions now maintain FIRE’s highest rating for campus free expression.

“Arizona’s green light schools are setting a standard for free expression that colleges across the country should aspire to follow,” said FIRE’s Laura Beltz, policy reform senior program officer. “We’re pleased to see NAU join an elite group of colleges that have committed to protecting students’ free speech rights.”

Ninety percent of the 466 colleges and universities in FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2019 report restrict student expression. “Yellow light” colleges maintain vague policies that could be applied to restrict constitutionally protected speech, and “red light” schools — which make up 30 percent of institutions nationwide — maintain policies that clearly and substantially imperil free speech.

NAU’s last yellow light policy, related to computer use, previously banned “lewd” material, a broad, undefined term that includes constitutionally protected speech. The policy was revised to remove the term “lewd,” leaving appropriate prohibitions on unlawful conduct like “harassment” and “threats” in place.


For the first time, the number of students at green light schools nationally topped 1 million.

“FIRE is proud of the leaders at these 48 institutions who stood up for student speech — and, in doing so, defended the voices of more than a million students,” said Azhar Majeed, FIRE’s vice president of policy reform. “We call on university leaders across the country to follow the example set by these schools and reform their policies that silence speech on their campuses.”

Public universities like the rated Arizona institutions are legally bound by the First Amendment to uphold free speech rights, while private institutions are bound by promises of free speech found in their official policies. To learn more about the state of free speech on college campuses, see FIRE’s Spotlight database.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.


Daniel Burnett, Assistant Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

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