Table of Contents

Spotlight on Speech Codes 2023

Red yellow and green lamps wrapped in the first amendment

Most college students in the United States should be able to expect that freedom of expression will be upheld on their campuses. Public institutions are legally bound by the First Amendment, and the vast majority of private institutions promise their students free speech rights. However, FIRE’s annual review of our Spotlight database of speech codes reveals most schools maintain policies that infringe on those rights. 

Of the 486 schools included in FIRE’s Spotlight database, 94 earn an overall “red light” rating for maintaining policies that clearly and substantially restrict free speech. 324 earn an overall “yellow light” rating for maintaining policies that impose vague regulations on expression. Just 60 schools earn an overall “green light” rating for maintaining policies that do not seriously imperil free expression. Eight schools earn a “Warning” rating because they do not promise students free speech rights at all. 

Spotlight ratings by year

Below, you can learn more about the methodology, major findings, and the most common types of speech codes FIRE found and how to fix them. 

If you’d like to encourage a school you care about to revise its speech codes, FIRE is here to help! For more information, contact:


FIRE rated 375 four-year public institutions and 111 top private institutions on the extent to which their written regulations on student expression restrict free speech. 

FIRE rated 375 four-year public institutions and 111 top private institutions

A red light institution maintains at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech, or bars public access to its speech-related policies by requiring a university login and password for access.

A yellow light institution maintains policies that could too easily be applied to suppress protected speech, or maintains policies that, while clearly restricting freedom of speech, restrict relatively narrow categories of speech.

Number of Green Light schools is up

If FIRE finds that a university’s written policies do not seriously threaten campus expression, we award it a green light rating. (The speech code ratings do not take into account a university’s “as-applied” violations of student speech rights or other cases of censorship. For a look at the campus climate at top colleges that incorporates such factors, view FIRE’s annual College Free Speech Rankings.

When a private university clearly and consistently states that it holds a certain set of values above a commitment to freedom of speech, FIRE gives it a Warning rating to warn prospective students and faculty members of this fact.

Major findings

The percentage of schools earning an overall red light rating increased for the first time in 15 years, from 18.5% last year to 19.3% this year (13.9% of public schools and 37.8% of private schools). This reverse in progress was caused, in part, by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, which adopted a new, restrictive harassment policy that caused all of its rated institutions to be downgraded to an overall red light rating. 

The percentage of schools earning an overall red light rating increased for the first time in 15 years

66.7% of institutions now earn an overall yellow light rating (70.7% of public schools and 53.2% of private schools).

FIRE was pleased to welcome the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the University of South Florida to the green light list this year, bringing the total number of overall green light schools to an all-time high of 60 (14.9% of public schools and 3.6% of private schools).

Eight schools, or 1.6%, earn a Warning rating. Six private schools and two public military academies earn this rating for clearly placing other values above free expression rights.

In contrast to restrictive speech codes, 92 university administrations or faculty bodies have now adopted free speech policy statements modeled after the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago (the “Chicago Statement”), actively committing their institutions to upholding freedom of expression. This year, lawmakers and university regents took action to enshrine a commitment to free expression in official policy at public institutions in the state of Ohio and at all University of Texas institutions, respectively.

FIRE surveyed 486 schools

Common speech codes and how to fix them

Below are some of the most common types of restrictive speech codes FIRE found while reviewing colleges for this report. “FIRE’s Model Code of Student Conduct” and “Model Speech Policies for College Campuses” webpages provide examples of how to regulate these areas without infringing on speech.

FIRE’s Model Code of Student Conduct

FIRE’s Model Speech Policies for College Campuses

Harassment and bullying policies

Harassment isn’t protected by the First Amendment, but schools typically define harassment and bullying so broadly that their policies encompass protected speech. For example, Adams State University defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is of a sexual nature or is based on a person’s actual or perceived sex, gender,” or other enumerated category, including “verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”[1]

To protect free speech, schools must use the Supreme Court’s standard for peer harassment in the educational setting: defining “harassment” as conduct that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”[2]

Civility policies

While a university has every right to promote a tolerant and respectful atmosphere on campus, a university that claims to respect free speech must not limit discourse to only the inoffensive and respectful. However, many schools have policies that effectively require compliance with certain civility standards. Evergreen State College goes so far as to say: “Civility is not just a word; it must be present in all our interactions.”[3]

Schools should use clearly aspirational language when discussing civility to avoid creating a chilling effect on free speech.

Bias reporting policies

Most campuses have some form of a “bias incident” reporting system: a mechanism for reporting speech or conduct motivated by bias toward a particular characteristic. While some of these policies only exist to provide support to those impacted by such incidents, most impose vague consequences for engaging in what is often constitutionally protected expression.

For example, Bates College states that examples of bias incidents include “hate speech,” “sexist jokes,” and “disparaging remarks on social media sites.”[4] The college explicitly “reserves the right to address bias incidents that do not rise to the level of a policy violation” through actions such as “education and training,” “remedial and supportive actions,” and “other Informal Resolution mechanisms.”[5]

Instead of arbitrarily punishing students for speech that violates overbroad policies, colleges should make clear their bias reporting teams will not investigate or discipline protected speech, and that any participation in informal resolution mechanisms like “education and training” is voluntary.

Protest and demonstrations policies

Universities may enact reasonable, narrowly tailored “time, place, and manner” restrictions that prevent demonstrations from unduly interfering with the educational process.[6] Far too many schools, however, regulate events on the basis of content or viewpoint, or maintain regulations that place prior restraints or other unreasonable burdens on public expression.

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, for example, tells students they must inform campus police 48 hours in advance of using the university’s sole area for demonstrations.[7]

Institutions must instead allow students to spontaneously use publicly available, outdoor areas of the campus for public expression. Without the ability to do so, students are prevented from responding to new and unfolding events.

Posting and distribution of materials policies

Universities often unreasonably restrict posting or distributing of written materials on campus. Kean University, for one, requires students to reserve an area for distributing materials five days in advance of the activity.[8]

Students must not be prevented from spontaneously distributing materials on campus, nor may they be prevented from posting written materials without first seeking permission.

Technology usage policies

Universities are no more permitted to infringe on free speech online than on the campus quad. Nonetheless, regulations on online speech are frequently in far worse shape than policies governing in-person speech, often placing impermissible restrictions on the content or viewpoint of expression. 

Delaware State University’s policy, for example, bans users of any university technology, including the campus internet, from causing “offense to others” and even from causing “embarrassment” to the university itself.[9]

Instead, colleges should only ban speech and conduct that is not protected under First Amendment standards, such as harassment and true threats.


[1]Adams State University Student Handbook, ADAMS ST. UNIV. at 13, (last visited Nov. 29, 2022).

[2]Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 633 (1999).

[3]Evergreen’s Social Contract, EVERGREEN ST. UNIV., (last visited Nov. 29, 2022).

[4] Policy: Section V, BATES COLLEGE, (last visited Nov. 29, 2022).


[6]See Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791 (1989).

[7]Public Forum Use of University Facilities, UNIV. OF MASSACHUSETTS DARTMOUTH (Aug. 24, 2010),

[8]Distribution of Literature Policy, KEAN UNIV., (last visited Nov. 29, 2022).

[9]Acceptable Use Policy, DELAWARE ST. UNIV. at 3 (July 11, 2011), available at


Schools By Rating



Adams State University

Alabama A&M University

Amherst College

Bates College

Bemidji State University

Boston College

Boston University

California Institute of Technology

California State University - Dominguez Hills

California State University - Fresno

California State University - Monterey Bay

Carleton College

Case Western Reserve University

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

Chicago State University

Clark University

Colgate University

College of the Holy Cross

Connecticut College

Dakota State University

Delaware State University

Dickinson College

Drexel University

Eastern Illinois University

Evergreen State College

Fordham University

Fort Lewis College

Framingham State University

Furman University

Georgetown University

Grinnell College

Haverford College

Howard University

Indiana State University

Kean University

Lafayette College

Lake Superior State University

Lehigh University

Lewis-Clark State College

Lincoln University

Louisiana State University - Baton Rouge

Loyola Marymount University

Macalester College

Marquette University

Metropolitan State University

Middlebury College

Mount Holyoke College

Nicholls State University

Northeastern University

Northern Vermont University

Northwestern University

Portland State University

Princeton University

Reed College

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rice University

Saint Cloud State University

Santa Clara University

Shawnee State University

Skidmore College

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Southern Oregon University

Southwest Minnesota State University

St. Olaf College

State University of New York - Fredonia

State University of New York - New Paltz

Stevens Institute of Technology

Tennessee State University

The College of New Jersey

Troy University

Tufts University

Tulane University

Union College

University of Alaska Anchorage

University of Alaska Fairbanks

University of Central Oklahoma

University of Houston-Downtown

University of Louisiana at Monroe

University of Louisiana Lafayette

University of Massachusetts at Lowell

University of Miami

University of Notre Dame

University of Texas at Dallas

University of Washington

University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh

University of Wyoming

Utah State University

Valdosta State University

Villanova University

Virginia State University

Western Michigan University

Westfield State University

Winona State University




Alabama State University

American University

Angelo State University

Arkansas State University

Athens State University

Auburn University Montgomery

Ball State University

Bard College

Barnard College

Baruch College

Black Hills State University

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Boise State University

Bowdoin College

Bowling Green State University

Brandeis University

Bridgewater State University

Brooklyn College, City University of New York

Brown University

Bryn Mawr College

Bucknell University

California Maritime Academy

California Polytechnic State University

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

California State University - Bakersfield

California State University - Channel Islands

California State University - Chico

California State University - East Bay

California State University - Fullerton

California State University - Long Beach

California State University - Los Angeles

California State University - Northridge

California State University - Sacramento

California State University - San Bernardino

California State University - San Marcos

California State University - Stanislaus

Cameron University

Carnegie Mellon University

Central Connecticut State University

Central Michigan University

Central Washington University

Centre College

Christopher Newport University

Clemson University

Coastal Carolina University

Colby College

College of Charleston

Colorado College

Colorado School of Mines

Colorado State University

Colorado State University Pueblo

Columbia University

Cornell University

Dartmouth College

Davidson College

DePaul University

DePauw University

East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

East Tennessee State University

Eastern Michigan University

Eastern New Mexico University

Eastern Washington University

Ferris State University

Fitchburg State University

Florida A&M University

Florida Atlantic University

Florida Gulf Coast University

Florida International University

Fort Hays State University

Franklin & Marshall College

Frostburg State University

George Washington University

Georgia Gwinnett College

Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Southern University

Georgia State University

Gettysburg College

Governors State University

Grambling State University

Grand Valley State University

Hamilton College

Harvard University

Harvey Mudd College

Henderson State University

Humboldt State University

Hunter College, City University of New York

Idaho State University

Illinois State University

Indiana University - Bloomington

Indiana University - Kokomo

Indiana University - Purdue University Columbus

Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Indiana University South Bend

Indiana University, East

Indiana University, Northwest

Indiana University, Southeast

Iowa State University

Jacksonville State University

James Madison University

Johns Hopkins University

Kennesaw State University

Kent State University

Kentucky State University

Kenyon College

Knox College

Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania

Longwood University

Louisiana Tech University

Mansfield University of Pennsylvania

Marshall University

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Metropolitan State University of Denver

Miami University of Ohio

Michigan State University

Middle Georgia State University

Middle Tennessee State University

Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Missouri State University

Missouri University of Science & Technology

Montana State University

Montana Tech of the University of Montana

Montclair State University

Morehead State University

Murray State University

New College of Florida

New Jersey Institute of Technology

New Mexico State University

New York University

Norfolk State University

North Carolina A&T State University

North Dakota State University

Northeastern Illinois University

Northern Illinois University

Northern Kentucky University

Northern Michigan University

Northwestern Oklahoma State University

Northwestern State University

Oakland University

Oberlin College

Occidental College

Ohio University

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater

Old Dominion University

Pennsylvania State University - University Park

Pennsylvania Western University, California

Pennsylvania Western University, Clarion

Pittsburg State University

Pitzer College

Pomona College

Queens College, City University of New York

Radford University

Rhode Island College

Rogers State University

Rowan University

Rutgers University - New Brunswick

Saginaw Valley State University

Salem State University

Sam Houston State University

San Diego State University

San Francisco State University

San Jose State University

Scripps College

Sewanee, The University of the South

Slippery Rock University

Smith College

Sonoma State University

South Dakota State University

Southeast Missouri State University

Southeastern Louisiana University

Southern Connecticut State University

Southern Methodist University

Southern Utah University

Stanford University

State University of New York - Binghamton

State University of New York - Oswego

State University of New York - Albany

State University of New York - University at Buffalo

State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Stockton University

Stony Brook University

State University of New York - Geneseo

Swarthmore College

Syracuse University

Tarleton State University

Temple University

Tennessee Technological University

Texas Southern University

Texas State University - San Marcos

Texas Tech University

Texas Woman's University

The City College of New York

The Ohio State University

The University of Virginia's College at Wise

Towson University

Trinity College

University of Akron

University of Alabama

University of Alabama at Birmingham

University of Alabama in Huntsville

University of Alaska Southeast

University of Arkansas - Fayetteville

University of California Berkeley

University of California Davis

University of California Irvine

University of California Merced

University of California Riverside

University of California San Diego

University of California Santa Barbara

University of California Santa Cruz

University of Central Arkansas

University of Central Florida

University of Central Missouri

University of Cincinnati

University of Colorado Denver

University of Connecticut

University of Delaware

University of Denver

University of Georgia

University of Hawaii at Manoa

University of Hawaii Hilo

University of Houston

University of Idaho

University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Illinois at Springfield

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Iowa

University of Kansas

University of Kentucky

University of Maine

University of Maine at Fort Kent

University of Maine Presque Isle

University of Mary Washington

University of Massachusetts - Amherst

University of Massachusetts - Boston

University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth

University of Memphis

University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

University of Michigan - Dearborn

University of Michigan - Flint

University of Minnesota - Morris

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

University of Missouri - Columbia

University of Missouri - Kansas City

University of Missouri - St. Louis

University of Montana

University of Montana Western

University of Montevallo

University of Nebraska - Lincoln

University of Nebraska Omaha

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

University of Nevada, Reno

University of New Mexico

University of New Orleans

University of North Alabama

University of North Georgia

University of North Texas

University of Northern Colorado

University of Northern Iowa

University of Oklahoma

University of Oregon

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pittsburgh

University of Rhode Island

University of Richmond

University of Rochester

University of South Alabama

University of South Carolina Columbia

University of South Dakota

University of South Florida at Saint Petersburg

University of Southern California

University of Southern Indiana

University of Southern Maine

University of Texas at Arlington

University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas at El Paso

University of Texas at San Antonio

University of Texas at Tyler

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

University of Toledo

University of Tulsa

University of Utah

University of Vermont

University of West Alabama

University of West Florida

University of West Georgia

University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire

University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

University of Wisconsin - Madison

University of Wisconsin - Stout

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Utah Valley University

Vanderbilt University

Vassar College

Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Wake Forest University

Washington and Lee University

Washington State University

Washington University in St. Louis

Wayne State University

Weber State University

Wellesley College

Wesleyan University

West Chester University of Pennsylvania

West Virginia University

Western Illinois University

Western Kentucky University

Western Oregon University

Western Washington University

Wheaton College

Whitman College

Wichita State University

William Paterson University

Williams College

Winston-Salem State University

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Worcester State University

Wright State University

Yale University

Youngstown State University



Alcorn State University

Appalachian State University

Arizona State University

Auburn University

Claremont McKenna College

Cleveland State University

Colorado Mesa University

Delta State University

Duke University

East Carolina University

Eastern Kentucky University

Elizabeth City State University

Emory University

Fayetteville State University

Florida State University

George Mason University

Jackson State University

Kansas State University

Keene State College

McNeese State University

Michigan Technological University

Mississippi State University

North Carolina Central University

North Carolina State University

Northern Arizona University

Oregon State University

PennWest Edinboro

Plymouth State University

Purdue University

Purdue University Fort Wayne

Purdue University Northwest

Shippensburg University

State University of New York - Brockport

State University of New York - Plattsburgh

Texas A&M University

The College of William & Mary

University of Arizona

University of California Los Angeles

University of Chicago

University of Colorado at Boulder

University of Florida

University of Louisville

University of Maryland - College Park

University of Mississippi

University of New Hampshire

University of North Carolina - Pembroke

University of North Carolina at Asheville

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina Charlotte

University of North Carolina Greensboro

University of North Carolina School of the Arts

University of North Carolina Wilmington

University of North Dakota

University of North Florida

University of South Florida

University of Southern Mississippi

University of Tennessee Knoxville

University of Virginia

Western Carolina University

Western Colorado University



Baylor University

Brigham Young University

Hillsdale College

Pepperdine University

Saint Louis University

United States Military Academy

United States Naval Academy

Yeshiva University

Rating Changes, 2021–2022 Academic Year


2020-2021 Rating

2021-2022 Rating

Amherst College



Barnard College



Bemidji State University



Dakota State University



DePauw University



Harvey Mudd College



Haverford College



Johns Hopkins University



Loyola Marymount University



Metropolitan State University



Nicholls State University



Saint Cloud State University



Southwest Minnesota State University



University of Central Missouri



University of Illinois at Chicago



University of North Carolina at Asheville



University of South Florida



University of Tulsa



University of Washington



Westfield State University



Winona State University



Schools At Which A Faculty Or Administrative Body Has Adopted A Version Of The ‘Chicago Statement’

Adrian College

American University

Arizona State University

Ashland University

Ball State University

Board of Regents: State of Iowa

Boston University

Bowling Green State University

Brandeis University

California State University Channel Islands

Case Western Reserve University

Chapman University

Christopher Newport University

City University of New York

Claremont McKenna College

Clark University

Cleveland State University

Colgate University

Colorado Mesa University

Columbia University

Denison University

DePauw University

Eckerd College

Franklin & Marshall College

George Mason University

George Washington University

Georgetown University

Gettysburg College

Jacksonville State University

Johns Hopkins University

Joliet Junior College

Jones County Junior College

Kansas Board of Regents

Kenyon College

Kettering University

King University

Louisiana State University System

Miami University

Michigan State University

Middle Tennessee State University

Nevada System of Higher Education

Northern Illinois University

Ohio State University

Ohio University

Ohio Wesleyan University

Princeton University

Purdue University System

Ranger College

Shawnee State University

Smith College

Snow College

South Dakota University System

Southern Methodist University

Southern Utah University

St. Mary's University

State University of New York - University at Buffalo

State University System of Florida

Stetson University

Suffolk University

Tennessee Technological University

The Citadel

University of Akron

University of Alabama System

University of Arizona

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

University of Cincinnati

University of Colorado System

University of Denver

University of Louisiana System

University of Maine System

University of Maryland

University of Massachusetts Boston

University of Minnesota

University of Missouri System

University of Montana

University of Nebraska System

University of North Carolina System

University of Richmond

University of Southern Indiana

University of Texas System

University of Toledo

University of Virginia

University of Virginia College at Wise

University of Wisconsin System

Utica College

Vanderbilt University

Washington and Lee University

Washington University in St. Louis

Wheaton College

Winthrop University

Wright State University

Youngstown State University