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Western Kentucky University Revises Speech Code of the Month Policy

In some good news for free speech on campus, Western Kentucky University (WKU) has revised a “Computing Ethics” policy that drew condemnation from the university’s Student Government Association (SGA) and was named FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month for March 2014. Because this was WKU’s only “red light” policy, the university now earns an improved, “yellow light” rating in FIRE’s Spotlight database.

Prior to the revision, WKU’s Computing Ethics policy prohibited the use of university email resources for “[t]ransmitting statements, language, images or other materials that are reasonably likely to be perceived as offensive or disparaging of others based on race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, religious or political beliefs,” as well as for “advocating religious or political opinions.”

In October 2013, SGA Director of Public Relations Laura Harper submitted a resolution to the SGA calling on the university to revise the computing ethics policy because it violated students’ right to free speech. The resolution passed by a nearly unanimous vote, and university administrators indicated a willingness to revise the policy.

Last week, FIRE named the computing ethics policy our Speech Code of the Month for March 2014, noting that it “effectively shuts down open discourse over the university’s email system and threatens academic freedom by severely restricting what students and faculty members can say—and how they can say it—when discussing important political and social issues.” Within just a few days of announcing the Speech Code of the Month, FIRE received an email from Gordon Johnson Jr., WKU’s Associate Vice President of Information Technology, informing us that the policy had been revised and the language in question removed.

FIRE is very pleased by this development and happy to no longer count WKU among the ranks of our red light schools, the percentage of which has been steadily dropping over the past six years. We also congratulate Laura Harper and the SGA, whose vocal support of free speech on campus no doubt contributed to this victory.

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