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One million students now attend colleges with FIRE’s highest free speech rating

  • Northern Arizona University revises policies to become 48th institution nationwide to earn FIRE’s highest speech rating
  • Arizona becomes only state where all rated colleges earn FIRE’s best rating for free speech

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., Feb. 26, 2019 — Today, Northern Arizona University earned the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s highest rating for free speech, bringing the total number of institutions earning FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating to 48. For the first time, more than 1 million students across the country attend an institution earning a green light rating in FIRE’s Spotlight database.

“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.”

Nationally, 90 percent of 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.

However, not one rated college in Arizona maintains written policies that imperil free speech. Northern Arizona University revised its computer use policy to earn FIRE’s highest, green light rating for free speech.

“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.

“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.”

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.


Public universities 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.

When FIRE first issued our Spotlight on Speech Codes report, just eight universities (2 percent) received a green light. View all of the Spotlight reports on FIRE’s website.

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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