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University of South Carolina earns top rating for free speech

University of South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C., June 11, 2024 —The University of South Carolina has earned a “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. Green light ratings are reserved for institutions with no written policies that seriously threaten student free speech rights. USC is one of only 66 colleges and universities nationwide to earn this rating from FIRE. 

During summer 2023, USC had an overall “yellow light” rating for maintaining several policies that could be used to restrict free expression. After multiple conversations with FIRE’s Policy Reform team, USC revised four policies that impacted student expression on campus, which resulted in its green light rating.

The new changes include amendments to two provisions of USC’s student code of conduct, one on harassment and another on the misuse of institutional technology. They also include improvements to a posting policy and revisions to language used online to describe the university’s decades-old values statement known as the “Carolinian Creed.” 

The revisions to text used to frame the Carolinian Creed maintain the creed’s integrity while noting that students retain their full free speech rights on campus. The new language clearly articulates that students will not be subject to discipline for violating aspirational values such as personal integrity and respect for the dignity of others. 

The improved posting policy ensures students can post on campus freely, subject only to specified content-neutral rules. Thanks to this update, students and student organizations seeking to organize a protest, share views about the news of the day, or simply gauge interest in a new student activity on campus know they can do so without facing disciplinary consequences. 

“The Board of Trustees is steadfast in its support for free speech at USC,” said USC Board Chair Thad H. Westbrook. “In fact, the Board, the University’s leadership, and FIRE share a commitment to free expression. That commitment is ultimately about students and maintaining a culture for higher learning that opens eyes and ears rather than closing them to difficult ideas — even when the ideas are not popular or are deemed problematic by those in power. The Policy Reform team at FIRE demonstrates a deep understanding of this commitment.”

USC’s efforts to support free expression were not isolated to revising policies that affected FIRE’s Spotlight rating system

In June 2023, USC’s board of trustees endorsed the “Chicago Statement,” a robust articulation of an institution’s commitment to free speech. In February 2024, USC initiated an educational campaign to inform students and student groups about free expression. During that same month, the board of trustees received from its Audit & Advisory Services division a report on policies and practices regarding free speech and expressive events on campus. USC and FIRE also discussed various speaker events on USC’s campus and best practices for promoting and protecting free expression.

“USC went above and beyond to make its campus friendly to free expression,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Mary Griffin, who worked with USC over the last year. “Not only did the institution seek to ensure its written policies aligned with the First Amendment, but it also prioritized communicating the importance of free expression as a valued principle to students, faculty, and staff. USC’s all-around approach is a model we hope all schools will follow.”

FIRE is eager to help schools around the country follow USC’s lead and earn a green light rating. We regularly work with colleges and universities, free of charge, to revise their policies to ensure they meet First Amendment standards. Contact FIRE’s campus Policy Reform team today at

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.

The University of South Carolina, established in 1801, educates students through outstanding teaching—providing research, scholarship, and service that drives community and economic impact for the benefit of the state, nation, and world.

Jack Whitten, Media Relations Specialist, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

Jeff Stensland, Assistant Vice President of Institutional Relations and Public Affairs, University of South Carolina: 803-777-3686;

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