Location: Auburn University, Alabama
Federal Circuit: 11th Circuit
Speech Code Rating
Auburn University has been given the speech code rating Green. Green light institutions are those colleges and universities whose policies nominally protect free speech. Read more here.
November 2, 2011
In November 2011, Auburn University student Eric Philips was required to remove a banner supporting Ron Paul’s presidential campaign from the inside of his dormitory window. Despite Auburn’s policy prohibiting all window decorations in its residence halls, Philips documented numerous examples of the policy not being enforced against other students. Following a letter from FIRE on December 9, 2011, Auburn responded that it was committed to a “total ban” on this form of student expression. When FIRE presented Auburn with continued photographic evidence of its selective enforcement, however, Auburn then claimed that the policy existed for the “safety, health, and […]» Read More
Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
Last updated: August 14, 2017
Sexual Harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or other unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, whether verbal, non-verbal, graphic, physical, or otherwise, when the conditions outlined in (1) and/or (2), below, are present.
Gender-Based Harassment includes harassment based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, which may include acts of aggression, intimidation, or hostility, whether verbal or non-verbal, graphic, physical, or otherwise, even if the acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature, when the conditions outlined in (1) and/or (2), below, are present.
(1) Submission to or rejection of such conduct is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of a person’s employment, academic standing, or participation in any University programs and/or activities or is used as the basis for University decisions affecting the individual (often referred to as “quid pro quo” harassment); or
(2) Such conduct creates a hostile environment. A “hostile environment” exists when the conduct is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with, limits, or deprives an individual from participating in or benefitting from the University’s education or employment programs and/or activities. Conduct must be deemed severe, persistent, or pervasive from both a subjective and an objective perspective.
Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies
Last updated: January 30, 2018
It is not possible to specify a rule for every possible use or misuse of IT resources, but some examples of appropriate use include: … Special care to avoid activity that is or could be perceived as harassing or threatening.
Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
Last updated: August 14, 2017
The following conduct is prohibited: 1. Physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, stalking, coercion, and/or other behavior which threatens or endangers the health and/or safety of any person.
Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
Last updated: August 14, 2017
Harassment in academic settings and in the employment arena where students are involved is defined as:
Conduct (physical, verbal, graphic, written, or electronic) that is (1) unwelcome; (2) discriminatory on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability; (3) directed at an individual or group in one of the protected classes outlined in this policy; and (4) so severe or pervasive and objectively offensive that it unreasonably interferes with the victim’s ability to participate in or to realize the intended benefits of an institutional activity, opportunity, or resource, unreasonably interferes with the victim’s work or living environment, or deprives the victim of some other protected right.
Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech
Last updated: January 4, 2018
BERT may respond to a bias incident report in a variety of ways, depending on the nature of the incident and the needs of those impacted. Response may include connecting those impacted with resources and support, working with university stakeholders to facilitate transparent and open communication, supporting opportunities for dialogue and restorative justice, or referring information to other offices to determine if policies were violated.
BERT will not investigate, adjudicate or take the place of other Auburn University processes or services; rather, the aim is to complement and work with campus entities to connect impacted parties and communities with appropriate support and resources.
Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies
Last updated: January 3, 2018
To facilitate robust debate and the free exchange of ideas, the university has established a high visibility area on campus as an “Open Air Forum.” This area may be used by any person, including non-students and other campus guests. This use may be without prior permission from the university so long as:
- The area has not been previously reserved or scheduled for a particular function.
- No sound amplification is used.
- Participants do not violate university policies.
- Guidelines outlined in Section II.A. are followed.
The Open Air Forums are located at the northeast corner of the intersection of Mell Street and Roosevelt Drive and at the northeast corner of the intersection of South Donahue Drive and the West Thach Concourse.
Although it is not necessary for a person using the designated Open Air Forum to obtain prior permission from the university, such persons are encouraged to contact the Student Center Reservations Office for scheduling purposes to minimize possible conflicts. That Office may be reached at: 334-844-1320 during the hours of 7:45 a.m. until 4:45 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as limiting the right of a student’s free expression elsewhere on campus so long as the expressive activities or related conduct do not violate any other applicable university policies.
September 1, 2016
By Jennifer Kabbany at The College Fix POINTS! to Auburn University engineering Professor Peter Schwartz for his cleverly sarcastic trigger warning atop his syllabus for one of his fall classes… Read more here.» Read More
September 1, 2016
By Blake Neff at The Daily Caller A professor at Auburn University is ridiculing the rising popularity of “trigger warnings” on college campuses by releasing a course syllabus that includes trigger warnings for concepts like math grades. Read more here.» Read More
March 15, 2016
By Adam Houser at Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow Student activists of Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, committed the egregious crime of offering their peers the opportunity to write on their shirts in support of free speech. Students could write anything, and did: “not enough on campus housing,” “diversity,” and “love God,” were just a few of the phrases students wrote while exercising their 1st amendment rights. Read more here.» Read More
An Education in College Justice: Under pressure from the Obama administration, a university tramples the rights of the accused.
December 6, 2013
By James Taranto at The Wall Street Journal Joshua Strange will never forget the girl he met in May 2011. Both were underclassmen at Alabama’s Auburn University when a common acquaintance introduced them. “We instantly became attached at the hip and did everything together,” she recalled six months later. “I rather quickly moved into his place. . . . Everything was great until pretty much June 29.” That night, an intimate encounter in Mr. Strange’s bed went wrong. She called police, who detained him for questioning. She said she had awakened to find him forcing himself on her; he said the sexual activity was […]» Read More
September 20, 2012
While election season may seem especially surreal this time around — or maybe it just seems that way every four years — nowhere is it stranger than in the weird parallel dimension known as our college campuses. Every presidential election that I’ve experienced since I’ve been president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has without exception been marred by some ridiculous attempt by university lawyers and administrators to limit political debate and discussion. While some of the censorship clearly arises from a stunning lack of understanding of basic principles of law, others seem to come down to “I believe in free […]» Read More
December 22, 2011
Eric Philips, the Auburn University undergraduate who was forced by the school to remove a campaign sign for Texas Congressman Ron Paul from his dorm room window, says that when it comes to political expression, a double standard exists at his school. “I just wish I’d been able to express myself,” Philips, the president of Auburn for Ron Paul 2012, told The Daily Caller. “I’d just like to advertise for my organization just like all the other organizations can.” A new rule at Auburn states that “hanging or displaying items such as flags, banners, decals, or signs out of or obstructing […]» Read More
November 1, 2005
An art student sued Troy University on Monday, saying the school violated his free speech rights by censoring his artwork and implementing a campus speech code that unconstitutionally restricts speech. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Montgomery, contends Troy officials removed portions of Blake Dews’ artwork because it featured female nudity. The university issued a statement defending its decision on Dews’ art. ”The photographs in question displayed male full frontal nudity and the university did not consider the photographs to be consistent with our community ‘s standards,” the statement said. ”This is a matter now under litigation and […]» Read More
December 11, 2001
By Debbie Elliott and Linda Wertheimer at All Things Considered (NPR) ANCHORS: NOAH ADAMS; LINDA WERTHEIMER REPORTERS: DEBBIE ELLIOTT NOAH ADAMS, host: From NPR News, it’s ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Noah Adams. LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: And I’m Linda Wertheimer. In Alabama, Auburn University is embroiled in a free speech lawsuit. It stems from the university’s decision to suspend 15 students and two all-white fraternities after photos from Halloween parties showed the students wearing racially offensive costumes. NPR’s Debbie Elliott reports. DEBBIE ELLIOTT reporting: Shock, embarrassment, humiliation–those are the words that Auburn officials and students alike use to describe their reaction to what […]» Read More
January 30, 2018
AUBURN, Ala., Jan. 30, 2018 — Auburn University has earned the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s highest rating for free speech, becoming the first university in Alabama to earn this distinction. In cooperation with FIRE, Auburn revised a number of speech codes to join an elite group of only 38 universities nationwide that have brought their written policies fully in line with the First Amendment. “As a place of higher learning, a university campus should be the first to embrace the free exchange of ideas and speech,” said Bobby Woodard, Ph.D., Auburn’s vice president for student affairs. “It’s not […]» Read More
December 15, 2015
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for December 2015: Auburn University. Student protests have been all over the news this fall. While some of the protesters’ demands—such as demands for restrictions on student and faculty speech—have been troubling, the right of students to engage in protest and other expressive activities is critically important, and this autumn’s events have illustrated the power of student protest. What many people may not realize is that a distressing number of universities across the country maintain onerous restrictions on when and where students may demonstrate. One such institution is Auburn University. Auburn’s restrictive […]» Read More
October 17, 2014
On Monday, Vox co-founder Ezra Klein penned an op-ed about how he firmly supported the affirmative consent bill recently passed in California despite his candid acknowledgment that the bill was in fact “terrible.” The general tenor of his column, which I discussed in The Daily Caller yesterday, was that you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs—the eggs being people unjustly found guilty of rape. Critics on the left and the right were equally appalled, as well they—or anyone concerned with civil liberties—should have been. Under this barrage of well-deserved criticism, Klein returned with a longer piece yesterday, […]» Read More
September 2, 2014
The Student Press Law Center reports that on August 28, more than 1,000 copies of The Auburn Plainsman were stolen, costing Auburn University’s student newspaper nearly $800. The newspapers disappeared from seven locations throughout Auburn’s campus. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the theft, but the paper’s editors believe that one of its stories may have been the cause.» Read More
August 21, 2014
Yesterday’s issue of The Washington Post included a comprehensive and even-handed article about the due process concerns being raised by an increasing number of students accused of sexual assault within university judicial systems.» Read More
December 9, 2013
Over the weekend, Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Taranto penned a piece about one Auburn University student’s treatment by the campus judiciary following another student’s allegation that he committed sexual assault. Joshua Strange faced two separate systems. In the criminal court system, a grand jury failed even to find probable cause to prosecute him, despite the fact that probable cause is a very low bar to pass. Yet in the campus court system, using the same information available to the grand jury, the school found Strange guilty under the “preponderance of evidence” evidentiary standard. The finding resulted in Strange’s expulsion from Auburn. […]» Read More
September 21, 2012
When Auburn University student Eric Philips hung a Ron Paul poster in his dormitory window, he was ordered to take it down just three hours later. The university cited a school-wide ban on window hangings as the reason for the censorship, saying that it was instituted for “safety” reasons. Auburn must not care very much about the safety of its students, though, because Philips took to campus with his iPad and easily showed that this policy wasn’t being evenly enforced. Fraternity banners, Halloween decorations, and Christmas lights were all allowed in windows, but a Ron Paul banner was not. National […]» Read More
May 7, 2012
Auburn University senior Eric Philips is one of the more than 3,300 Auburn students being awarded their degrees today at the university’s commencement ceremonies. He has also been working with FIRE for months now to reform Auburn’s restrictive policy banning window decorations—which seems to include the Ron Paul banner he was told to remove from his window last fall, but exclude the many banners and other items fellow students have hung there without incident. As I noted recently, Auburn has recast its argument to one based on protecting the “safety, health and wellbeing” of the Auburn student population, which, if […]» Read More
April 24, 2012
FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s appearance on Stossel last week is now available online. The episode highlights two current FIRE cases: Auburn University’s selective banning of student window hangings and the University of Cincinnati’s threats to arrest students who wanted to gather signatures outside of the school’s free speech zone. Greg also told the Florida State University audience that FSU’s speech codes are unconstitutional. Check out the video below!» Read More
April 23, 2012
For months now, as shown last week on Stossel, FIRE has been fighting alongside Auburn University student Eric Philips for the reform of an unnecessarily restrictive policy on window decorations at Auburn. As we’ve argued, the policy needlessly curtails a traditional form of student expression. What’s more, as FIRE and Philips have repeatedly shown, the policy has been unevenly enforced, with Philips being ordered to remove his banner supporting Ron Paul’s presidential candidacy while other students have faced no such censorship. Here’s the timeline: FIRE first wrote to Auburn about the policy in December 2011; Auburn responded that it […]» Read More
March 16, 2012
Each month, the CFN Student Spotlight features a student member who is working to promote individual rights on his or her campus. For March, I am pleased to announce that our featured student is Allen Mendenhall of Auburn University. As a Ph.D. candidate and teacher at Auburn, Allen has helped establish an environment open to free speech and robust debate both in the classes he teaches and the classes he attends. He maintains an open-door policy for students and he encourages them to speak their minds in his classroom, regardless of their opinions. He also advocates actively for free speech […]» Read More
January 24, 2012
For weeks now, FIRE has been fighting for free speech at Auburn University, which continues to maintain an unwise and illiberal ban on window hangings in its dorms despite ample evidence pointing to its uneven enforcement of the policy. Now student Eric Philips—who came to FIRE after being forced to remove a banner supporting Ron Paul’s presidential candidacy from his window—has told his story to Auburn’s student newspaper, The Auburn Plainsman. As Philips relates to the Plainsman: “Well, I noticed everybody else hanging banners, at least in the sororities and some people inside my dorm with Auburn banners in their window,” Philips said. “There’s […]» Read More
Double Standard at Auburn: Ron Paul Banner Banned from Dorm Room Window While ‘Total Ban’ Goes Unenforced
January 16, 2012
Auburn University has discriminated against a student by ordering him to remove a Ron Paul banner from his dormitory window. Although the university has nominally instituted a “total ban” on window decorations, a dozen or more other window decorations have been permitted. Moreover, the university has failed to provide any evidence that such a total ban is necessary. FIRE has asked Auburn to justify its both lax and discriminatory enforcement of the “total ban” on this form of student expression. On November 7, Auburn University ordered a Ron Paul for President campaign banner removed from the inside of undergraduate Eric […]» Read More
January 13, 2012
Auburn University doctoral student Allen Mendenhall has written an op-ed for today’s Montgomery Advertiser criticizing Auburn’s decision to censor a Ron Paul banner in the dormitory window of student Eric Philips. Allen, a FIRE Campus Freedom Network member, explains that Philips’ case is of particular concern to him because of his extensive family connections to Auburn and his love of the school—he describes himself as “bleeding orange and blue.” Allen expresses his frustration at Auburn’s seemingly flippant attitude towards the First Amendment and student rights, writing: President Gogue and the Auburn administration ought to revise these strict policies. The prohibition of all window displays is unreasonable and, when […]» Read More
December 14, 2005
FIRE recently wrote a letter to John Churchill, secretary of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, in which we ask the organization to stand behind its stated commitment to freedom of expression by addressing the issue of repressive speech codes at its member institutions. In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required), Churchill responded that although Phi Beta Kappa is “interested in freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression,” the society does not “undertake that kind of investigative activity.” Apparently, the society has the resources to conduct a “rigorous three-year review” of prospective member institutions that includes […]» Read More
September 16, 2004
I. Introduction While there is no shortage of free speech battles on college campuses, fraternities have the dubious honor of being at the center of many of the least sympathetic controversies. From Halloween parties where brothers show up dressed as Ku Klux Klan members to fraternity newsletters that graphically relate a brother’s sexual exploits with named co-eds, fraternities sometimes express themselves in ways that are not exactly likely to win the battle for hearts and minds. However, although fraternities may later regret the actions of some of their brothers, they must not allow their rights to be stripped away by […]» Read More