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Speech Code of the Month: Syracuse University

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for September 2013: Syracuse University

Syracuse has just one “red light” speech code on its books, but it’s a doozy. The university’s Computing and Electronic Communications Policy (PDF) prohibits using its computer systems to send “offensive messages,” including “sexually, ethnically, racially, or religiously offensive messages.” This broad policy could apply to virtually any online expression that another person finds offensive, including earnest discussions of politically charged topics like immigration, affirmative action, and gay marriage. As such, it is wholly inconsistent with Syracuse’s commitment to “freedom of discussion” and “the expression of dissent.”

FIRE’s concern over Syracuse students’ online free speech rights is far from hypothetical: In the past three years, the university has threatened a law student with serious disciplinary action for a blog satirizing law school life and expelled an education graduate student for complaining on Facebook about a racially charged comment made in his presence by a community leader. 

Last December, Syracuse’s student newspaper, The Daily Orange, ran a story about the policy and about the university’s red light rating from FIRE. In that article, Syracuse College of Law Professor Lisa Dolak suggested that the policy “should be reviewed and reconsidered,” but nearly one year later, it still remains in place. 

In the article, a senior Syracuse administrator also stated that Syracuse “places a high value on free speech.” But this statement, like the university’s supposed commitment to “the expression of dissent,” rings hollow at a university that censors its students both in policy and in practice. To be the open and enlightened place it claims to be, Syracuse must end this censorship—and revising this policy would be a perfect place to start.

For these reasons, Syracuse University is our September 2013 Speech Code of the Month. If you believe that your college’s or university’s policy should be a Speech Code of the Month, please email with a link to the policy and a brief description of why you think attention should be drawn to this code. If you are a current college student or faculty member interested in free speech, consider joining FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network, an organization of college faculty members and students dedicated to advancing individual liberties on their campuses. You can also add FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month widget to your blog or website and help shed some much-needed sunlight on these repressive policies.

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