Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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

Tell Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to revise its speech policies by filling out this form.

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.

  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Prohibition on Homecoming Demonstrations

    October 9, 2017

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute denied, for the second time, students’ request for permission to peacefully demonstrate against the administration’s policies concerning the Rensselaer Union.

    » Read More
  • 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.

    » Read More

Red Light Policies

  • Policy on Electronic Citizenship

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies
    Last updated: June 12, 2017

    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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  • Student Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: June 12, 2017

    Sexual Harassment is defined as unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: … Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with work performance or participation in an academic program, or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work, living or learning environment.

    Sexual Misconduct means any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, including any conduct or act of a sexual nature perpetrated against an individual without their Consent. … Rensselaer encourages reporting of all Sexual Misconduct. Sexual Misconduct includes but is not limited to:

    • Intimate Partner Violence,
    • Sexual Assault,
    • Sexual Harassment, and
    • Stalking.

    The list of sanctions provided are guidelines and may be implemented for violations of the Policy. Any one or more sanctions may be imposed to a Respondent who is found responsible for any Sexual Misconduct policy violation(s). Sanctions are assessed in response to specific violation(s) and any prior disciplinary history of the Respondent. The list of sanctions include but are not limited to incidents stated below.

    Section 1

    Examples include but are not limited to: unwelcome religious, race, gender, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression slurs; unwelcome jokes with sexual content; sexually-based gestures; unwelcome text messages with sexual content; “sexting;” sexual innuendo; suggestive comments; insults; humor and jokes about sex or gender specific traits; sexual propositions; suggestive or insulting sounds; leering/staring; whistling; and obscene gestures.

    a. Service Hours: A set number of work hours the Respondent must complete. The Case Management Team will determine the nature of the work to be performed. Generally, service hours are conducted on campus.

    b. Educational Program/Project: Programs and activities designed to help the Respondent become more aware of Institute policies and help the Respondent understand the inappropriateness of their conduct, including, but not limited to, participation in an educational program or completion of an online program.

    c. Referral for Counseling: A referral for an assessment with an appropriately trained therapist and a mandate to follow any recommendations resulting from the counseling.

    d. Loss of Privileges: Denial of specific privilege(s) as defined by the Case Management Team for a defined period of time. Privileges include, but are not limited to, participation in extra-curricular activities and events such as social events, intercollegiate athletics, intramural programs, student organizations, and student government.

    e. Restricted Access: Conditions which specifically dictate and limit the Respondent’s presence on campus and/or participation in Institute-sponsored activities. The restrictions will be clearly defined and may include, but are not limited to, presence in certain buildings or locations on campus.

    f. Removal of Offending Cause: Requirement to remove the item which was the subject of the Complaint.

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Yellow Light Policies
  • Student Handbook: Rules for Maintenance of Public Order

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility
    Last updated: June 12, 2017

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

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  • Student Handbook: Sign Policy

    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies
    Last updated: June 12, 2017

    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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  • Sign Policy for Residence Halls and Apartments

    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies
    Last updated: June 12, 2017

    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

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies
    Last updated: June 12, 2017

    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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Green Light Policies
  • Student Handbook: Rules for Maintenance of Public Order

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: June 12, 2017

    Academic freedom is essential to a university community. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are essential to academic freedom.

    » Read More

  • Student Handbook: Student Bill of Rights

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: June 12, 2017

    The student is a citizen of the nation at large, and the Institute shall not impede or obstruct students in the exercise of their fundamental rights as citizens.

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  • Not Content Punishing its Own Students, RPI Goes After a Visitor

    December 1, 2017

    By Lindsay Marchello at Reason Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) has a growing reputation for sanctioning its student protesters, but the private New York college really overstepped its authority in a recent Title IX investigation. … Read more here.  

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  • Secretary DeVos Should Remind Colleges of Their First Amendment Obligations

    December 1, 2017

    By Frederick Hess and Grant Addison at National Review Administrators at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are engaged in a wholesale crackdown on student speech. RPI employees have been caught on tape removing signs criticizing the administration and sanctioning students for engaging in speech protected by the school’s own policies. … Read more here.

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  • RPI protesters face disciplinary action

    November 12, 2017

    By Mark Robarge at the Troy Record. A month after several hundred students, alumni, faculty and staff at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute protested the college administration’s plan to take control of the traditionally student-run Rensselaer Union, many of those protesters now find themselves facing disciplinary action… Read more here.

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  • When RPI Banned Protest, It Became a Class

    March 31, 2016

    By Ellen Wexler at Inside Higher Ed William Puka spoke into a megaphone, surrounded by hundreds of cheering students holding picket signs. “I just wanted to say,” he told the crowd, “that the class is going very well so far.” It wasn’t technically a class, but at the same time, it had to be. Without the protections Puka had created by calling the gathering a class, hundreds of students could face the consequences of protesting without permission… Read more here.

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  • 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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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute thinks you’re subject to its student conduct policy even if you’re not a student

    November 21, 2017

    If you think you’ve read a lot about Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in this space lately, you’re right: This is the sixth time this fall that FIRE is writing about RPI. We’ve also sent the school three letters this year. Unfortunately, we can’t promise this will be the last time, either — RPI seems hellbent on violating its promises to students in new and noteworthy ways. And even if you’re already an expert on RPI’s unconscionable attempts to hinder its students’ expressive rights, keep reading. In this latest installment, we’ll cover RPI’s attempt to make the Star Chamber look like a bastion […]

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  • As Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute threatens more students with punishment, student body president highlights RPI’s missed opportunity

    November 17, 2017

    On Monday, we shared a letter we sent to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a private institution in Troy, New York, where students are engaged in a long-running dispute with administrators about control of the Rensselaer Union. That quarrel has already seen RPI’s administration tearing down posters (on video), denying students’ requests for permission to demonstrate, and building a fence to keep student demonstrators far out of the earshot of donors at a black-tie fundraiser. Now, RPI is suggesting it may seek to punish more students, again defying its express commitment to students’ freedom of expression. In talking points prepared by RPI’s […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students face sanctions for protesting president’s black-tie fundraiser

    November 13, 2017

    TROY, N.Y., Nov. 13, 2017 — Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute administrators are doubling down on their crusade to stamp out student criticism. The school is bringing disciplinary charges against students who participated in a peaceful demonstration last month, even accusing one student of “operating a business” because he distributed a flyer criticizing Rensselaer’s administration. Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to Rensselaer — for the third time this fall — to condemn the charges and demand the school respect student expression. After denying students permission to hold a peaceful demonstration outside of the institute’s black-tie fundraiser on dubious grounds, […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s commitment to freedom of expression remains doubtful

    November 8, 2017

    Last month, FIRE raised concerns about whether Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is truly committed to its students’ freedom of expression — a right the private institution promises to uphold — due to the school’s repeated refusals to allow students to hold peaceful demonstrations critical of the administration. Unfortunately, RPI refused to substantively respond to our criticism and instead continued its pattern of enforcing vague policies to punish students supportive of the “Save the Union” campaign. The dispute pits the student- and alumni-driven “Save the Union” campaign against RPI’s leadership. “Save the Union” advocates oppose what they see as a power grab […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute president (literally) fences out free speech

    October 12, 2017

    TROY, N.Y., Oct. 12, 2017 — In the latest salvo fired in a long-running dispute over control of the student union, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute administrators have again banned student demonstrations — this time forbidding dissent during this weekend’s homecoming celebration. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to the private university earlier this week to demand that RPI end its blanket ban on student demonstrations planned for this weekend. In a stark illustration of its intent to keep out dissenting student voices, this week the administration erected a fence across wide swaths of the campus. The fence effectively prohibits students […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute denies students permission to protest administration — again

    October 9, 2017

    Last year, we told you about how students and faculty at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) were denied permission to hold a demonstration in support of their “Save the Union” campaign, and defied the administration by holding their demonstration anyway, cleverly labeling it a “class” about peaceful demonstrations. Now, RPI is once again denying students permission to hold a demonstration critical of the administration, this time during homecoming. FIRE is calling on RPI’s administration to back down. The long-running dispute over the Rensselaer Union involves the administration’s attempts to take control of the student-run union, which houses the bookstore, spaces for […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Cynical Attempt to Shut Down Protest Fails Spectacularly

    April 1, 2016

    The practice of university administrators providing absurd justifications for prohibiting student demonstrations is alive and well at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York. Administrators there cited a biannual speech by RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson as the reason why students couldn’t hold a “peaceful demonstration” outside the event, because the demonstration might be “disruptive to classes and operation of the educational enterprise.” Students, however—aided by a professor’s clever idea to hold a class about peaceful demonstrations during that time and in the same place as the proposed demonstration—carried on their demonstration anyway. At RPI, students are concerned that the […]

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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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Policies are rated on their inclusion of 10 due process safeguards. Each policy may receive 2 points for fully including that safeguard, 1 point for partial inclusion, and 0 points for no meaningful inclusion. Most, but not all, institutions have separate policies for sexual misconduct and all other misconduct. See FIRE’s Spotlight on Due Process report for more information.


Code of Conduct

  • Presumption of innocence
  • Adequate and timely notice
  • Adequate time to prepare
  • Conflicts of interest prohibited
  • Right to challenge fact-finders
  • Access to all evidence
  • Right to face accuser and witness
  • Active participation of counsel
  • Meaningful right to appeal
  • Expulsion must be unanimous