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.

Red Light Policies

  • Policy on Electronic Citizenship

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies
    Last updated: April 20, 2018

    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.

    » Read More

  • Student Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: April 20, 2018

    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 upon 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 and are determined on a case by case basis. The fact that a Respondent has completed all academic requirements for his/her academic degree does not preclude the imposition of any sanctions under this policy, including suspension or expulsion. The list of sanctions includes but is not limited to those stated below.

    Section 1

    For conduct including but 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
  • Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights & Responsibilities: Rules for Maintenance of Public Order

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility
    Last updated: April 20, 2018

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

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  • Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights & Responsibilities: Sign Policy

    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies
    Last updated: April 20, 2018

    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.

    » Read More

  • Sign Policy for Residence Halls and Apartments

    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies
    Last updated: April 20, 2018

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

    » Read More

  • Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights & Responsibilities: Rules for Maintenance of Public Order

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies
    Last updated: April 20, 2018

    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
  • City hides records of police helping private university spy on student critics

    October 5, 2018

    By Greg Piper at The College Fix Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has taken an aggressive stance toward student activists who want to protect the autonomy of their 128-year-old student-run union, which is funded by students and responsible for student activities. Read more here.

    » Read More
  • University Cites Eminent Domain to Kick Students Off Property

    March 28, 2018

    By Kayla Stetzel at Reason In a repressive double play, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has both censored student speech and tried to justify its clampdown with an absurd interpretation of eminent domain law… Read more here.

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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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  • City of Troy stonewalls over police department’s relationship with RPI

    October 1, 2018

    The City of Troy, in upstate New York, prefers the silent treatment to sharing records that might reveal how its police department came to videotape peaceful student demonstrators, and then share their tape with a private college’s administrators. It’s been almost a year since FIRE was first alerted to the fact that peaceful RPI student demonstrators at RPI — critics of RPI’s handling of its student union — defied administrators’ attempts to prevent a peaceful demonstration outside of a black-tie fundraiser held by RPI’s president. Those student protesters were met with a fence stretched across campus and a phalanx of […]

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  • Troy Police Department videotaped student demonstrators at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a private institution

    March 27, 2018

    Last fall, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute went to great lengths to suppress its students’ peaceful demonstrations — criticizing the institute’s administration — outside of a black-tie fundraiser. RPI administrators denied students’ request for permission to hold a peaceful demonstration (and not for the first time), built a fence to keep students far away from the fundraiser, then peppered students with a number of frivolous charges, all of which were ultimately dropped or resolved in the students’ favor. Dean of Students Travis Apgar later distributed talking points lamenting critics “who hide behind anonymity” and describing the demonstration as consisting of “highly tense […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: We want a ‘controlled environment’ for student speech

    March 26, 2018

    In February, students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute stood on a sidewalk outside of a hockey game, passing out buttons and flyers critical of the administration — until private security guards stopped them, claiming they had “eminent domain” over what the students reasonably believed to be a public sidewalk. In a town hall last week (full video here, and relevant video here), RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson asked the Institute’s public relations director and lawyer to respond to the controversy. After conceding that an officer was wrong to use the term “eminent domain” — which made no sense at all — […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute doubles down on sidewalk censorship

    March 15, 2018

    Last month, private security guards at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute booted two students from a sidewalk as they passed out flyers and buttons critical of the administration outside of a hockey game. When the students pointed out that the sidewalk appeared to be a public sidewalk — as opposed to the property of the private institution — the officers claimed that RPI controlled it because of “eminent domain.” So we sent RPI a letter — our fourth since October — pointing out that this was incoherent censorship and asking for an explanation, as well as any documents that might explain why […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute security officers block students from passing out literature on public sidewalk, claiming “eminent domain”

    March 5, 2018

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a private institution in upstate New York, recently earned a spot on FIRE’s list of the ten worst colleges for free speech, due in large part to its ongoing suppression of the student-led “Save the Union” campaign. Those students, critical of what they see as RPI administrators’ attempts to wrest control of the century-old, student-run Rensselaer Union, have seen administrators repeatedly deny permission to hold peaceful demonstrations; have repeatedly videotaped employees tearing down flyers; have recorded security officers ordering them not to post flyers; and have been subjected to investigations and unfounded charges of violating the student […]

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  • The state of free speech at RPI: Not good

    February 28, 2018

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has a long history of censoring anything controversial, from criticism of the Iraq War to critics of that criticism. Over the past year, RPI continued that tradition, working (literally) day and night to censor students. The target? Students who criticized what they perceive to be RPI administrators’ attempts to take over the Rensselaer Union — an organization and facility that has been independently operated by RPI students for over a century. What do RPI students and faculty make of the administration’s repeated attacks on free speech? Watch our documentary to find out, and join the students in […]

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  • The 10 worst colleges for free speech: 2018

    February 12, 2018

    Every year, FIRE chooses the 10 worst colleges for free speech — and unfortunately, 2017 left us with plenty of options: Campuses were rocked by violent mob censorship, monitored by bias response teams, plagued by free speech zones, and beset by far too many disinvitation attempts. Although the number of colleges with the most restrictive speech codes has continued to decline, 90 percent of schools still maintain codes that either clearly restrict or could too easily be used to restrict free speech. Today, we present our 2018 list of the 10 worst colleges for free speech. As always, our list […]

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  • FIRE names America’s 10 worst colleges for free speech: 2018

    February 12, 2018

    PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 12, 2018 — Each year, colleges across the country find dubious ways to silence student and faculty expression. In the last year, administrators became embroiled in litigation for telling a student he couldn’t hand out Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution outside a free speech zone, continued a years-long effort to ban a group from campus due to its political viewpoint, and even investigated a professor for a satirical tweet — eventually driving him to resign. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has identified America’s 10 worst colleges for free speech, published today with detailed descriptions on […]

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  • New York Civil Liberties Union questions Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s invocation of “non-existent” policies

    December 28, 2017

    In the wake of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s repeated attempts to stifle student supporters of the “Save the Union” campaign, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has now weighed in with a letter of its own, sharing its “grave concerns about credible reports that the Institute has been violating its own policies on free expression and due process in a very serious and disingenuous manner.” RPI’s efforts have found it tearing down student flyers, fencing off a startlingly large portion of its campus to keep protesters out of view of a black-tie fundraiser, and charging a student with solicitation for […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute drops charges against “Save the Union” protesters

    December 21, 2017

    This fall, students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) advocating for the preservation of a student-governed Union found themselves subject to audacious efforts to stifle criticism of the Institute’s administration: employees caught on camera tearing down flyers before dawn, and the erection of a fence across a significant part of the campus in order to keep would-be demonstrators out of eyesight of would-be donors. These efforts came in spite of Institute policy expressly forbidding administrators from denying access to campus facilities for the purpose of frustrating student expression. After the dust settled — who are we kidding, the demonstration was so […]

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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