Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Location: Troy, New York
Type: Private
Federal Circuit: 2nd Circuit

Speech Code Rating

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been given the speech code rating Red. A red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. Read more here.

  • Mohammed Cartoon Controversy: FIRE Response to Intimidation and Newspaper Disputes

    February 22, 2006

    As a result of worldwide controversy regarding caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, first published in a Danish newspaper, free speech was being openly disregarded on American college campuses. In the weeks following the printing of the cartoon, students, professors, and student publications not only reprinted the controversial cartoons but even created their own satirical cartoons depicting Mohammed. Chilling of speech in relation to the cartoon was found at Century College, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and New York University, amongst others.

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Red Light Policies

  • Policy on Electronic Citizenship 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies

    No one may, under any circumstances, use Rensselaer’s computer systems or networks to libel, slander, or harass any other person.

    Computer Harassment includes, but is not limited to, using Rensselaer’s computer systems or networks: (1) to annoy, harass, terrify, intimidate, threaten, offend or bother another person (for example, by conveying abusive, profane, defamatory or offensive messages, obscene language, pictures, or other materials, or threats of bodily harm); (2) to contact another person repeatedly to annoy, harass, or bother, whether or not any actual message is communicated, and/or where no purpose of legitimate communication exists, and where the recipient has expressed a desire for the communication to cease; (3) to contact another person repeatedly regarding a matter for which one does not have a legal right to communicate, once the recipient has expressed a desire for such communication to cease; (4) to disrupt or damage the academic, research, administrative, or related pursuits of another; (5) to invade or threaten to invade the privacy, academic or otherwise, of another.

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Yellow Light Policies
  • Student Handbook: Sexual Harassment 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: (1) submission to such conduct is made a term or condition of employment or participation in academic or student life programs; (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as a basis for employment or education decisions affecting the individual; (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with a student, employee’s, or third party’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working, educational, or living environment, or (4) sexual violence including, but not limited to, rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.


    [S]ome examples of specifically prohibited conduct include:

    * Engaging in sexually suggestive conversation that is unwelcome or physical contact or touching another student or employee in a way that is unwelcome.
    *Displaying, storing, or transmitting pornographic or sexually oriented materials ….

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  • Student Handbook: Rules for Maintenance of Public Order 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility

    No person or persons shall use, in public, language or gestures which are unreasonably abusive or obscene.

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  • Sign Policy for Residence Halls and Apartments 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies

    Signs must not contain anything that maligns any person or group as determined by Residence Life.

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  • Student Handbook: Rules for Maintenance of Public Order 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies

    Only peaceful demonstrations are appropriate in an academic community and the Trustees are confident that no member or group of the Institute community will go beyond the bounds set by these regulations. In order to maintain the safety and to safeguard the interests of all members of the Institute community, any group or individual planning a demonstration must submit an Application For Approval of Peaceful Demonstration to the Dean of Students Office at least seven (7) days prior to the proposed demonstration date and include its proposed location and the object of the intended protest, or other purpose. If a situation emerges for which a seven day notice is neither appropriate nor practical, the Dean of Students shall exercise reasonable discretion by reviewing the application to reasonably assure student safety and to safeguard the interests of all members of the Rensselaer community.

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  • Student Handbook: Sign Policy 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies

    This policy was developed to regulate the style, content, and posting of signs and posters as a means of reducing the litter and visual clutter on campus.

    The Institute reserves the right to remove signs deemed to be graphically inappropriate, profane, libelous, in unsightly condition, or outdated information.

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Green Light Policies
  • On campus, students fight to be right

    May 1, 2005

    SARATOGA SPRINGS — Last month at Skidmore College, a group of students planned a “Coming Out Day.” The students weren’t celebrating their sexuality, but their conservativeness. They belonged to the Young Republican Assembly. While the group wound up changing the name of the event because some students took offense, their decision to tag such a right-wing event with a moniker often associated with the left was no coincidence. The conservative movement on college campuses today is characterized by its adoption of concepts that the left has relied on for years. Now, when young Republicans speak out, they call for tolerance, […]

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  • Columbia’s Due Process Cont’d.

    May 21, 2001

    The Wall Street Journal

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  • This Time, We’re Failing to Talk About ‘American Sniper’

    April 20, 2015

    Every so often, a cultural touchstone descends on college campuses, with the effect of putting campus discourse under the microscope for all to see. The results, frequently, are discouraging. Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster film American Sniper, adapted from deceased Navy sniper Chris Kyle’s memoir, is the latest exhibit. That American Sniper is a controversial movie is not a controversial observation. It was one of the most remarked-upon movies of last year, and the fevered debate over its portrayals of the war in Iraq, of the Iraqi people (and, by extension, Arabs and the Arab world), and of Kyle himself was difficult […]

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  • FIRE Awaits Supreme Court Ruling on Content Neutrality

    March 18, 2015

    About five years ago, when I was a graduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), I tried to start a student group for nontheistic students (atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and so forth) called the Secular Student Alliance (SSA). I quickly discovered that RPI had a policy of denying funding to political and religious student groups (of which they considered SSA one), despite funding all kinds of other student groups. While RPI is a private institution and thus not legally bound by the First Amendment, RPI’s written policies state that freedom of speech is “essential” to the university and that “the […]

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