University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Type: Public
Federal Circuit: 6th Circuit

Speech Code Rating

University of Michigan – Ann Arbor 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.

  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor: Unequal Treatment of Conservative Student Newspaper

    May 13, 2009

    At the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor The Michigan Review, a student-run publication, was threatened with eviction from their office space after an abrupt change in policy by the university without providing notification to the student group. After the Review frequently opposed UM policies, the group was told by University of Michigan League Director Audrey Schwimmer that they were being denied their office space. UM administrators claimed that this was because UM had reclassified the organization such that it was no longer eligible for five-year leases, although no evidence appears in support of this claim. At some point, UM […]

    » Read More

Red Light Policies

  • Expect Respect: Frequently Asked Questions

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech
    Last updated: February 23, 2017

    What are some examples of bias-related incidents?

    Depending on the totality of the circumstances, writing a racial epithet in erasable marker on someone’s dry-erase board, making fun of another person because of his or her language or accent, or making insulting comments about someone’s traditional manner of dress or geographic origin are hypothetical examples of a bias-related incident.

    How will the University respond when it learns of hate crimes or bias-related incidents?

    The University is committed to act responsibly when it learns of incidents motivated by hate or bias. Such occurrences, if they constitute a criminal act such as assault or property damage, should be reported to the police and will be fully investigated. Other acts of intolerance may violate University policies or community standards. In those instances we will pursue a range of remedies that may include disciplinary action as well as community education and dialogue. When you report a bias incident, University staff will help you determine the possible next steps, explain the relevant processes, and offer counseling and support or refer you to other offices that may provide support.

    Can individuals who engage in hateful speech be arrested or disciplined by the University?

    It depends. The University takes seriously its responsibility to appropriately balance its core values of protecting individual freedoms (e.g., freedom of speech, artistic expression, freedom of association, academic freedom) and ensuring equal and fair treatment of all. These values may sometimes be in conflict. Various University offices are responsible for determining whether hateful speech violates the University’s non-discrimination and unlawful harassment policies. In so doing, the University is always mindful that academia is a unique place where the exchange of ideas, robust debate and artistic expression are critical to the University’s teaching and research missions.

    » Read More

  • Standard Practice Guide Policies: Sexual Harassment

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: February 23, 2017

    A claim under this policy may be brought by the University or by a faculty, staff or student member of the University community based on the conduct of any University employee.

    An individual may engage in conduct of a sexual nature that may not be sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive to constitute sexual harassment as described below, but is nonetheless inappropriate. Such conduct also will not be tolerated by the University, is prohibited by the University and is subject to discipline up to and including termination of employment.

    Some examples of conduct that may constitute sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:

    Unwanted sexual statements – sexual or “dirty” jokes, comments on physical attributes, spreading rumors about or rating others as to sexual activity or performance, talking about one’s sexual activity in front of others, and displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures and/or written material. Unwanted sexual statements can be made in person, in writing, electronically (email, instant messaging, blogs, web pages, etc.), and otherwise.

    » Read More

Yellow Light Policies
  • Office of Student Conflict Resolution: Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities

    Speech Code Category: Bullying Policies
    Last updated: February 23, 2017

    Harassing or bullying another person−physically, verbally, or through other means.

    » Read More

  • The University of Michigan Policy and Procedures on Student Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: February 23, 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 … Such conduct creates a hostile environment. A hostile environment exists when the conduct is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it unreasonably (i) interferes with, (ii) limits, or (iii) 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. In evaluating whether a hostile environment exists, the University will consider the totality of known circumstances, including, the nature, frequency, intensity, location, context, and duration of the behavior.


    Examples of conduct that may constitute sexual or gender-based harassment include: …

    Unwanted written, verbal, or electronic statements of a sexual nature, directed at an individual including sexually suggestive comments, jokes, or innuendos; …

    Written, verbal, or electronic statements that disparage a person based on a perceived lack of stereotypical masculinity or femininity or perceived sexual orientation….


    » Read More

  • Standard Practice Guide Policies: Discrimination and Harassment

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: February 23, 2017

    For the purposes of determining whether a particular course of conduct constitutes discrimination or harassment under this policy, the following definition will be used:

    Conduct that is based upon an individual’s race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight or veteran’s status that: … has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s employment or educational performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive, or abusive environment for that individual’s employment, education, living environment, or participation in a University activity.

    » Read More

Green Light Policies
  • Office of Student Conflict Resolution: Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: February 23, 2017

    Students at the University have the same rights and protections under the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Michigan as other citizens. These rights include freedom of expression, press, religion, and assembly. The University has a long tradition of student activism and values freedom of expression, which includes voicing unpopular views and dissent.

    » Read More

  • Standard Practice Guide Policies: Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: February 23, 2017

    Expression of diverse points of view is of the highest importance, not only for those who espouse a cause or position and then defend it, but also for those who hear and pass judgment on that defense. The belief that an opinion is pernicious, false, or in any other way detestable cannot be grounds for its suppression.

    Rude or offensive behavior, though inconsistent with the standards of civility that we hope would prevail on a university campus, sometimes fall within the legitimate exercise of freedom of speech and, when it does, may not be suppressed.

    Because freedom of speech and expression play such a critical role in the functioning of a university, undue interference with the exercise of these freedoms by members of the University community may constitute grounds for resort to law or other formal action.

    » Read More

  • How Campus Policies Limit Free Speech

    September 13, 2016

    By David Hudson at The Systems Scientist  Colleges and universities are supposed to be places where freedom of expression flourishes. Sadly, that is not the case. At a recent debate on the Yale University campus, 66 percent of the attendees supported a proposition that “free speech is threatened.”… Read more here.

    » Read More
  • How Colleges Investigate Sexual Assault on Campus

    June 16, 2016

    By Staff at Yahoo! News  The case of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer recently found guilty of sexual assault, has brought renewed attention to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. Turner was prosecuted in California criminal court for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on Stanford’s campus. The jury found him guilty of three felony offenses, and the judge sentenced him to a controversial six months in prison… Read more here.

    » Read More
  • GMU’s Scalia Law School is a Win for Free Thought

    June 7, 2016

    By Thomas Wheatley at The Washington Post The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia recently made the courageous decision to officially allow George Mason University’s law school to rename itself in honor the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia… Read more here.

    » Read More
  • How Campus Policies Limit Free Speech

    June 1, 2016

    By Staff at Raw Story Colleges and universities are supposed to be places where freedom of expression flourishes. Sadly, that is not the case. At a recent debate on the Yale University campus, 66 percent of the attendees supported a proposition that “free speech is threatened.”… Read more here.

    » Read More
  • Sensitive Students, Faculty Make for Interesting Times on Campus

    May 10, 2016

    By Staff at The Oklahoman DURING a commencement speech at the University of Michigan last month, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked in part about the need for students to expose themselves to new ideas and try to get along with people they don’t agree with. This is among “the most important skills in the working world,” Bloomberg said… Read more here.

    » Read More
  • Chalk One up for Free Speech on Campus

    May 3, 2016

    By Dick Poman at NewsWorks The freak show grinds on — Carly Fiorina fell off a stage, a perfect metaphor; Ted Cruz tried in vain to reason with Trumpitistas who brainlessly chanted Der Leader’s “Lyin’ Ted” mantra; Hillary Clinton said that her March promise to put coal miners “out of business” was merely a “misstatement” (yeah, sure); Trump said that Cruz’s dad aided Lee Harvey Oswald (?!?) — but let’s briefly leave the trail. Please. If only to salvage our sanity… Read more here.

    » Read More
  • Getting a Judge to Recognize Anti-Male Bias in Campus Rape Cases is a Tall Order

    April 21, 2016

    By Greg Piper at The College Fix You might have already seen Robby Soave of Reason or Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner write about a bold new lawsuit by a student athlete, Grant Neal, accused of rape. Read more here.

    » Read More
  • ‘The Chalkening’ of Trump: Terror Grows on Campuses

    April 18, 2016

    By Bob Unruh at World Net Daily On university campuses, where many enthusiastic students vote for the first time, political candidates’ slogans typically appear on signs, bumper stickers, T-shirts, placards, dorm-room walls and even in chalk on sidewalks… Read more here.

    » Read More
  • Phallic Drawing Stimulates Free Speech Debate at University of Delaware (UD)

    April 18, 2016

    By Anthony Hennen at Red Alert Politics A crude drawing on a “free speech ball” has a campus group at the University of Delaware facing scrutiny from anti-harassment rules… Read more here.

    » Read More
  • Pro-Trump Chalk Messages Cause Conflicts on College Campuses

    April 1, 2016

    By Katie Rogers at The New York Times Students at several college campuses are clashing with their administrations and debating the limits of free speech after finding chalk messages voicing support for Donald J. Trump scrawled on campus property… Read more here.

    » Read More
  • New Threat to Campus Speech: Department of Education’s Plans for Racial Harassment, Report Says

    December 11, 2015

    By Peter Maxwell at The College Fix Fear that agency’s guidance could ‘parallel’ broad sexual-harassment rules Despite a plunge this year in the number of universities with severe restrictions on free speech, new threats are on the horizon thanks to outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s recent statements on racial issues, according to a new report. For the first time since the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education started tracking speech codes on college campuses, less than half of American colleges it has rated maintain “red light” policies, FIRE’s annual “Spotlight” report said. Between September 2014 and September 2015, FIRE downgraded 10 universities […]

    » Read More
  • To Learn or Not to Learn

    November 27, 2015

    By Dave Trecker at Naples News Some thoughtful people are asking a thoughtful question, one perhaps long overdue: What is the real purpose of higher education? Is it to learn the basics of math, writing, literature, science, history? To learn to think and reason? To prepare for employment? Or is it to try to change the world — whether you can spell or not? Is it to force changes on universities terrified of offending liberal students who may or may not be able to write a coherent paragraph or balance their checkbooks? Or is it to do both, if you […]

    » Read More
  • Chicago School of Free Speech

    November 23, 2015

    By L. Gordon Crovitz at The Wall Street Journal “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” read the headline of an essay for the liberal website Vox earlier this year. The author, who was frightened enough to write under a pseudonym, admitted that he “cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad,” including books by Mark Twain. The American Association of University Professors last year warned: “The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.” The liberals who run U.S. universities can’t be surprised by […]

    » Read More
  • Missouri Controversy Highlights Academia’s Free Speech struggle

    November 15, 2015

    By Aamer Madhani and Roger Yu at USA Today As college administrators across the country move to crack down on hate speech on campus, First Amendment advocates say that universities are becoming increasingly squeamish about exposing students to ideas that they may find offensive or collide with their world view In a nationwide poll published by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale University last month, 50% of students said they often felt intimidated to offer views that differ from their classmates’ or professors’. Sixty-three percent of students said that they thought political correctness was a problem on campus, while […]

    » Read More
  • Students Learn What Teachers Teach: Speech They Dislike Is Not ‘Speech’— It’s ‘Violence’

    October 27, 2015

    By David French at National Review Spend much time in American colleges and universities and you’ll be become intimately familiar with statements that begin “I support free speech, but . . . ” In other words, schools will proudly proclaim their dedication to free speech and academic freedom often while simultaneously maintaining and enforcing speech codes — policies that unlawfully restrict or prohibit constitutionally protected speech. To take one example, the University of Michigan — one of the nation’s most prestigious public universities – in one policy condemns “bias-related incidents” such as “making fun” of a “person’s accent” or “insulting . . . someone’s traditional manner of dress […]

    » Read More
  • 3 Important Speech and Sex Stories From the College Outrage Files: Fall 2015

    October 7, 2015

    By Robby Soave at Reason Online  School has been back in session for just over a month, and there’s plenty of bad news—though a bit of good news—for advocates of freedom on college campuses. Here are three important recent stories that showcase the current landscape of campus speech and sex repression 1) The Pronoun Police Are Just Getting Started Watch your mouth: countless universities have policies in place to discourage students from using offensive language, and some—including the University of California—are exploring ways to make talking even less tolerable on campus. The University of Tennessee’s Pride Center was recently caught trying […]

    » Read More
  • A Campus Rape Ruling, Reversed

    September 15, 2015

    By Emily Yoffe at Slate Drew Sterrett just joined a very small cohort: He is a male college student who has had a sexual assault finding against him reversed. Sterrett, 22, left the University of Michigan in 2012, halfway through his sophomore year, after the university ruled that he’d engaged in sexual intercourse with a fellow student without her consent. As I reported in Slate last year, Sterrett sued the university in federal court, claiming that the proceedings led to what he said was an erroneous conclusion and violated his 14th Amendment rights to due process. When the court rejected […]

    » Read More
  • 10 Ways the Ivory Tower is Eroding American Values

    April 24, 2015

    By Jenna A. Robinson at The John William Pope Center (Editor’s note: This is the transcript of a speech delivered at a meeting of the Shaftesbury Society on April 17, 2015. A video recording of the speech is available here.) Last month, six student government members at the University of California at Irvine voted to ban the American flag in some parts of campus. And although the ban was overturned, thousands of professors and students across California signed a letter supporting the flags removal. Just last week, University of Michigan administrators stopped a showing of American Sniper at the campus […]

    » Read More
  • Getting Coddled at College: Academe Treats Students Like Fragile Flowers

    April 19, 2015

    By Jack Kelly at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette The Center for Campus Involvement at the University of Michigan recently canceled a screening of “American Sniper,” the Clint Eastwood film about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. It was canceled after sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui gathered “roughly 200” signatures (out of a student body of 42,700) on a petition alleging the film “promotes anti-Muslim rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer.” CCI said in a statement: “We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students.” The screening was back on a day later, and the […]

    » Read More
  • College Students Advised To Avoid Offensive Words

    February 13, 2015

    By Bob Kellogg at OneNewsNow An Upper Midwest university has taken the dubious step of beginning an “inclusive language campaign.” The University of Michigan wants to tell students that words such as “illegal alien,” “ghetto” and “crazy” are unsuitable because someone might be offended. However, Azhar Majeed of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says this isn’t quite a First Amendment issue. “It appears students will not be subject to censorship or disciplinary action,” he tells OneNewsNow. “At the same time, I can’t help but think that there will be some level of a chilling effect when students are being told, Watch […]

    » Read More
  • U of Michigan Spent $16K Teaching Students That Words Can Hurt

    February 9, 2015

    By Gabriella Morrongiello at Campus Reform Teaching students the old adage “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” cost the University of Michigan $16,000, according to news reports. In September, U of M launched a semester-long “Inclusive Language Campaign” (ILC) encouraging students to practice self-censorship to avoid offending their peers. According to U of M’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, the language campaign was developed to “educate students about the power of words and their potential to cause offense” and takes its shape from a similar program implemented by the University of Maryland in […]

    » Read More
  • The University of Michigan vs. the First Amendment: James Varney

    February 9, 2015

    By James Varney at As an Ohioan by blood, I know some awful things have come out of the University of Michigan. The very word “Michigan” is one I strive not to use in polite conversation. Ironically, it’s now Michigan that’s going to war with language. The school has spent $16,000 on an “inclusive language” campaign that seeks to make certain words and phrases forbidden. It’s remarkable that, years after Michael Scott exposed the word on “The Office,”left-wing hotbeds still need to spend thousands telling students they shouldn’t say “retarded.” Nevertheless, there is such a thing as free speech and the […]

    » Read More
  • Students Newspapers Desecrating Free Speech: A Transformation, or Return to Form?

    January 27, 2015

    By Robby Soave at Reason Online Everybody is buzzing about Jonathan Chait’s latest feature for New York magazine, which argues that the culture of repressive political correctness on college campuses has returned in full-force after a period of hibernation following its peak in the 80s and early 90s. Responses to the article, wrote Reason contributor and Cato Institute scholar Julian Sanchez on Twitter, “make me wonder if Chait hired a team of satirists to underscore his point.” In his article, Chait pursues many of the usual campus suspects: trigger warnings, microaggressions, etc. Readers will not be surprised to learn that […]

    » Read More
  • College Campuses’ Feelings-Based Tyranny

    December 19, 2014

    By John Leo at National Review Online At Marquette University, an ethics teacher refused to allow a class discussion on gay marriage because gays in the room might be offended by negative opinions. At Harvard Law, Dean Martha Minow cited “hurt” as her reason for sending a campus-wide e-mail excoriating a student who said, in a private message, that some research on race and intelligence might be worthwhile. At Oberlin, a thousand people signed a petition  to “discontinue the standard grading system” this semester for black students because they have ”suffered significant trauma” from the grand jury decisions in the Ferguson and […]

    » Read More
  • Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Finds U-M/EMU Speech Codes “Prohibit Protected Speech”

    December 19, 2014

    By Rob Smith at The Ann Arbor Independent IN A REPORT released on Dec. 10, the Foundation for Individual Right in Education concluded that the University of Michigan and EMU are  “red light” institutions when it comes to free speech on the campus. In fact, of the 12 Michigan colleges rates, eight were found to have policies in places that  substantially restrict free speech for students and faculty. According to the report, “A red light institution is one that has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech, or that bars public access to its […]

    » Read More
  • Student Column Triggers Vandalism, Threats & Termination from Competing Campus Paper

    December 18, 2014

    By Dan Reimold at College Media Matters Before 2 a.m. last Friday, four young women entered an apartment complex near the University of Michigan. Once inside, the anonymous quartet quickly donned oversized hoodies and proceeded to leave eggs, gum, uncooked hot dogs, a picture of the devil and handwritten notes containing vulgar asides and threats at the doorway of a UM student who wrote a campus newspaper column they apparently didn’t like. They then took photos of their handiwork and fled the scene. College Fix calls the incident a hate crime. The vandals’ hatred has been linked to a column appearing […]

    » Read More
  • Vandalized: Residence of U-M Student Who Dared to Mock Trigger Warnings

    December 15, 2014

    By Robby Soave at Reason Online Omar Mahmood is a student at the University of Michigan. He considers himself a political conservative and a Muslim. And until recently, he enjoyed writing for both of the campus’s newspapers: the institutional, liberal paper,The Michigan Daily, and the conservative alternative paper, The Michigan Review. After penning a satirical op-ed for The Review that mocked political correctness and trigger warnings, The Daily ordered him to apologize to an anonymous staffer who was offended and felt “threatened” by him. He refused and was fired. Last week, he became the victim of what The College Fix has described as […]

    » Read More
  • Michigan Student Newspaper ‘Decapitates’ Athletic Director in Photo Illustration

    October 7, 2014

    By Dan Reimold at The Huffington Post A conservative student newspaper at the University of Michigan is in the spotlight after publishing a photo illustration that led a UM adjunct professor to bring up ISIS and alert campus police. This past week, The Michigan Review posted a doctored photo online that included a depiction of the severed head of the school’s embattled athletic director — bloodied and decapitated from what appears to be a French-Revolution-era guillotine. According to Review editor Derek Draplin, the image aimed to capture the “mob mentality” of an increasingly vocal group of Wolverine football faithful who are fed up with the team’s struggles and […]

    » Read More
  • Litter, legal ambiguity and your First Amendment rights

    February 20, 2008

    When the College of Literature, Science and the Arts announced a new policy that would regulate the distribution and posting of publications, fliers and signs in LSA buildings, free speech advocates cried foul. The policy, which would only grant distribution rights during fall and winter semesters to student groups that comply with registration and content criteria, seemed to many a blatant violation of the First Amendment. It’s counter-intuitive, a public institution that limits the speech of the public. The University’s Faculty Handbook states, “Because the search for knowledge is our most fundamental purpose, the University has an especially strong commitment to […]

    » Read More
  • Free speech pressed

    January 29, 2008

    The College of Literature, Science, and the Art’s Facilities and Operations Department is considering adopting regulations that could seriously affect the ability of student publications to distribute their products on campus, according to various interviews and documents obtained by The Michigan Review. (A copy of the draft policy can be found by clicking here.) According to preliminary drafts of the proposed policies, distribution of publications would be limited to those governed by the Board of Student Publications (which includes The Michigan Daily and humor magazine The Gargoyle) and student organizations approved by the Michigan Student Assembly. The policy also forbids […]

    » Read More
  • War of Words

    May 23, 2003

    By Beth McMurtrie at The Chronicle of Higher Education Advocacy group says campus speech codes are unconstitutional; many colleges say their policies are being distorted A lawsuit filed against Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania last month has rekindled a debate about whether policies designed to protect students from harassment violate the First Amendment. Two undergraduates, backed by a national campus free-speechadvocacy group, sued the state institution, arguing that its policies governing student conduct are unconstitutionally vague, too broad, and discriminate on the basis of religious and political viewpoints. The lawsuit is the first volley in a new campaign by the Foundation for Individual […]

    » Read More
  • In wake of troubling campus incidents, students stand up for free speech

    April 19, 2017

    Last week, a staff editorial in Wellesley College’s student newspaper, The Wellesley News, garnered significant public attention for arguing that “[s]hutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech.” The editorial also had a creepy whiff of ideological re-education about it, arguing that while many people cannot help arriving on campus with “problematic” views instilled in them by our “discriminatory and biased society,” at some point, these benighted students simply deserve what’s coming to them: “if people are given the resources to learn and either continue to speak hate speech or […]

    » Read More
  • What Campus Leaders Had To Say About Free Speech This Week [UPDATED]

    October 7, 2016

    Campus leaders have recently been taking advantage of opportunities—sometimes under pressure—to explain their approach to freedom of speech and other principles enshrined in the First Amendment. How did they fare with such tests this week? The Good Washington State University (WSU) Members of WSU’s administration—President Kirk Schulz, Provost and Executive Vice President Dan Bernardo, and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Melynda Huskey—penned a “message on Free Speech” that went out to WSU students this week. In it, they reminded students of the university’s role in the free exchange of ideas: Public universities are uniquely suited […]

    » Read More
  • University of Michigan President: I’ll Stand Next to You While You Censor Posters

    October 5, 2016

    Last week, posters with “racially charged messages” appeared on the campus of the University of Michigan, prompting condemnations from students and the university’s administration. University President Mark Schlissel promptly issued a statement affirming the institution’s commitment to “defend[ing] any individual’s right to free speech on our campus,” while decrying the content of the posters. On Sunday, however, Schlissel made a troubling clarification to that statement, saying that while the First Amendment prohibits administrators from censoring the posters, he would gladly stand by students while they tore down messages they disagreed with. Schlissel’s remarks, transcribed below, were captured on video: I […]

    » Read More
  • How Campus Activism Helped Me Gain a Greater Appreciation for Freedom of Speech

    July 28, 2016

    In recent years, many discussions about student activism on college campuses have cast freedom of speech as a hindrance to social justice or other objectives of student activism. This characterization creates an unhelpful and false dichotomy between two concepts that are inherently linked. Simply put, without robust First Amendment guarantees, social justice movements would not be able to exist and thrive on campus. Even “acceptable” and “progressive” speech is not free from the threat of censorship. Indeed, some of the most vigorously censored speech on campus in recent years has been that of social justice-minded drug policy reform groups. In […]

    » Read More
  • Civility Pledge and Bias Reporting System at U. Michigan Shortchange Student Rights

    June 27, 2016

    Last spring, students at the University of Michigan (UM) living in one of the largest residence halls on campus, South Quad, were pressured to sign a pledge in which they “agree to promote” certain values and state that they “will not stand for intolerance.” The pledge, the brainchild of university administrators, laid out acceptable student expression and asked students to commit to promoting certain values among their peers. To encourage participation, Residential Advisors (RAs)—student-employees who live in the residence halls—were required to promote the pledge at mandatory hall meetings. The full text of the community pledge reads: As a member […]

    » Read More
  • University Training Programs Can Misinform, Fail to Protect

    December 30, 2015

    2015 has been a landmark year for student activism, including for those demanding more attention be paid to the issue of rape and sexual assault on college campuses. Although this activism has helped shine light on an important issue, many of the responses by universities have undermined students’ rights in critical ways. While FIRE has written extensively this year about the lack of due process in campus disciplinary proceedings, there is another aspect of universities’ responses that we want to call attention to: mandatory “orientations” and “training programs” that freshmen are often required to take in order to register for […]

    » Read More
  • More Campuses Using Special Victims Units to Investigate Sexual Assaults

    September 23, 2015

    Working to address concerns about both sexual assault and due process on campus, more colleges and universities are asking specially trained police units to investigate sexual assault allegations. Earlier this month, The Arizona Republic reported that Arizona State University (ASU) police formed a special victims unit (SVU) to handle sexual assault allegations at ASU. “The change comes as universities face increased federal requirements and scrutiny over their handling of sexual-violence complaints,” wrote the Republic’s Anne Ryman. “None of the new requirements mandates that schools form their own SVUs. But campus-safety experts said the trend is a logical step toward an […]

    » Read More
  • 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 […]

    » Read More
  • Report Raises Familiar Concerns About Faculty Due Process at U. of Michigan

    March 17, 2015

    In a report released earlier this month, the University of Michigan (UM) Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) concurred with an earlier conclusion reached by the Faculty Hearing Committee (FHC) that UM faculty accused of sexual discrimination and harassment are not afforded even “the most basic elements of fairness and due process.” Some of the specific problems with UM’s treatment of these cases mirror those in student sexual misconduct cases and those in faculty disciplinary cases at other universities, demonstrating the breadth of universities’ struggles to act as adjudicatory bodies. SACUA and FHC reviewed complaints from three individuals who […]

    » Read More
  • U. of Michigan Student Forced to Quit Student Publication Following Satirical Article

    December 3, 2014

    A satirical column written by University of Michigan student Omar Mahmood and published last month in the independent, student-run publication the Michigan Review was apparently too much for the sensibilities of the campus newspaper The Michigan Daily, for which Mahmood also writes. In his column, Mahmood cheekily declared “TRIGGER WARNING!” before launching into a thorough and sarcastic analysis of aggressions he faced as a man of color and, later, as a left-handed person. He wrote, for example: The right thing… The right thing… I became so aware at that moment of the left hand that I had thrust out before […]

    » Read More
  • Michigan Lecturer Alerts Campus Police to Drawing of Beheading, Claims He’s ‘Against Censorship, But…’

    October 2, 2014

    University of Michigan (UM) Athletics Director Dave Brandon has come under heavy fire recently from critics who say he’s mismanaged the department, particularly after football player Shane Morris was allowed to continue playing despite sustaining a head injury during a game on Saturday. This week, UM student newspaper the Michigan Review reported on the controversy surrounding Brandon, as well as an on-campus rally Tuesday at which students called for Brandon to be fired. The Michigan Review’s article is accompanied by an image of a painting depicting beheading by guillotine, with Brandon’s head copied and pasted into the grip of the […]

    » Read More
  • U. of Michigan Policy Says ‘No’ Means ‘Sexual Violence’

    October 1, 2014

    Everyone has the right to say “no” to sex. But the University of Michigan’s (UM’s) webpage on abuse suggests that there are times when saying “no” is unacceptable. “Withholding sex,” according to UM, is one of many “[e]xamples of sexual violence.” I took a close look at the policies and explained why a UM spokesperson’s defense of them is wholly insufficient in a post for The Huffington Post today—check it out.

    » Read More
  • University of Michigan Settles Lawsuit Over Unconstitutional Funding Decision

    July 11, 2014

    In October 2013, the University of Michigan (UM) student government denied the university’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) funding for a speech by Jennifer Gratz, the winning plaintiff in a 2003 lawsuit against the university for its weighing of applicants’ race in admissions. In December, YAL filed suit against UM with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Last month, UM entered into a settlement agreement with YAL, agreeing to pay $5,000 to YAL as well as $9,000 in legal fees.

    » Read More
  • FIRE’s Sevcenko: A Closer Look at the Winston Case

    January 31, 2014

    College football’s 2013 season is over, but unfortunately the issue of sexual assault on campus is a year-round issue. A few days ago, The Michigan Daily reported that former kicker Brendan Gibbons was expelled from the University of Michigan, soon after he was no longer eligible to play football but years after an alleged sexual assault took place in 2009. Earlier this week, ESPN reported that the University of Missouri failed to investigate allegations of sexual assault against football players raised by a student who later committed suicide. And questions have been raised about whether sexual assault allegations against Florida State […]

    » Read More
  • University of Michigan Student Group Files Lawsuit Over Unconstitutional Funding Decisions

    December 23, 2013

    Last Friday, a student group at the University of Michigan (UM) filed a federal lawsuit (PDF) against the university, claiming that UM violated the First Amendment when it refused to grant the group student fee funding for one of its activities on the basis that it was a “political activity.” The suit is being brought by Alliance Defending Freedom. The facts as alleged are unsettling but fairly straightforward. On October 22, the UM Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter, a recognized student organization, hosted a presentation by Jennifer Gratz, who famously won a 2003 lawsuit against the university for automatically granting admission “points” to […]

    » Read More
  • University of Michigan Re-Invites Alice Walker After Disinvitation Controversy

    August 20, 2013

    Last week, FIRE’s Samantha Harris reported that the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women (CEW) had rescinded its invitation to The Color Purple author Alice Walker to speak at CEW’s 50th anniversary celebration. According to Inside Higher Ed, CEW and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies are now asking Walker to speak on campus after all—but not at the 50th anniversary celebration. Walker had claimed that she was disinvited because her criticism of Israel offended some university donors. But an email sent to faculty by Provost Martha E. Pollack last Friday stated that the decision to […]

    » Read More
  • Universities Value Diversity, As Long As It Doesn’t Include Diversity of Thought

    August 16, 2013

    Yesterday, we heard the news that Dartmouth College was retracting its offer of a deanship to Malawian bishop James Tengatenga in light of comments he had made about homosexuality during his tenure as Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi.  Today, we learned that the University of Michigan rescinded a speaking invitation to Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, allegedly because of donor concerns about her anti-Israel activism.  These two incidents serve to highlight an unfortunate reality at too many universities: While they claim to place a high value on diversity and multiculturalism, they are often unprepared or […]

    » Read More
  • Handful of Protesters Cause $800+ Unconstitutional Security Fee for Pro-Life Group

    February 17, 2011

    The Alliance Defense Fund has written a letter to the University of Michigan (UM) after learning that the university burdened the UM group Students for Life with unconstitutional security fees connected to an event featuring Alveda King, niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Life News reports: Students for Life hosted a two-part speaking event featuring King in October. Upon learning that a few students opposed to King’s views planned to protest at the event, the university insisted on providing Department of Public Safety officers even though Students for Life believed such security was unnecessary. Approximately 250 people […]

    » Read More
  • ‘The Michigan Review’ Highlights U of M’s Red-Light Speech Codes

    December 8, 2010

    In an article for The Michigan Review, a student newspaper at the University of Michigan (U-M), Joss van Seventer explains how the school’s red-light “Bias and Hate Speech” policy contradicts the university’s rich history of free speech, from the “turbulent protests of the 60s” to U-M’s “modern-day reputation as a leading center of research and inquiry.” The article quotes Will on this point: “It may be well-intentioned, but the University of Michigan’s Bias and Hate Speech policy infringes on students’ First Amendment rights,” FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley said. “In the rough-and-tumble environment of our liberal […]

    » Read More
  • ‘Michigan Daily’ Columnist Probes ‘Bias Incidents’ at UM

    November 17, 2010

    Michigan Daily columnist Noel Gordon has an interesting observation about the University of Michigan’s South Quad dormitory in a recent column. “[H]anging above the East Side Community Center is a huge, yellow banner,” Gordon writes. “Instead of welcoming you to the building, the banner lets you know just how many days it has been since someone last reported a bias incident.” That’s a new one to me, but it’s another indicator of both the vigilance with which universities today present themselves as beacons of tolerance and the increasing fearfulness among administrators of such “bias incidents.” Once again, administrators are putting […]

    » Read More
  • In University of Michigan Commencement Speech, President Obama Praises Robust Debate

    May 3, 2010

    On Saturday, President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to the members of the University of Michigan’s Class of 2010, who assembled along with friends, family, and faculty to form a crowd of 80,000 in Michigan Stadium. In his speech (full text here), President Obama hailed the vital importance of robust debate in our society. He warned that when citizens “choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own,” social and political divisions in our nation only deepen, and he urged Americans to instead “actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and […]

    » Read More
  • Universities’ Compliance with Speech Code Decisions Leaves Much to Be Desired

    September 24, 2009

    FIRE’s newest Justice Robert H. Jackson Legal Fellow is Erica Goldberg. Erica is a graduate of Tufts University, where she was editor-in-chief of Tufts’ weekly newspaper, and of Stanford Law School, where she was a member of the moot court board. She also served as a law clerk to the Honorable Ronald L. Gilman on the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where she was confronted with various deprivations of freedom of expression. Before becoming a Robert H. Jackson fellow, Erica worked for two years as an appellate attorney at Latham & Watkins in Washington D.C. and then as […]

    » Read More
  • Faculty at University of Michigan Advocate for Greater Speech Rights

    March 11, 2009

    An article published earlier this week in The Michigan Daily, a student newspaper at the University of Michigan, highlights recent efforts by the university’s leading faculty governance body to strengthen the expressive rights enjoyed by faculty on campus. Just as encouraging, the move appears to have some support on the Michigan campus, as seen in a subsequent editorial in the Daily. In a report to be presented at this month’s Board of Regents meeting, the university’s Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) calls on the university to uphold and protect the right of faculty members to publicly criticize and […]

    » Read More
  • Policy raises free speech questions

    February 4, 2008

    A new policy being developed by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts that would regulate which student organizations and publications can pass out fliers, distribute publications and post informational signs in LSA buildings has come under criticism from legal experts who say the policy could violate students’ free speech rights. Under the new policy, student organizations and publications would have to be under the oversight of the Board for Student Publications—which oversees the Gargoyle humor magazine, the Michiganensian yearbook and The Michigan Daily—or recognized by the Michigan Student Assembly in order to distribute or post student-created print material […]

    » Read More
  • Pope Center’s ‘Clarion Call’ Highlights FIRE Speech Code of the Month Victory

    November 9, 2007

    This week’s Clarion Call, the weekly column of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, highlights FIRE’s speech code victory at Fayetteville State University. Fayetteville State’s Code of Student Conduct was picked as FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month for January 2007. It defined racial harassment as: [V]erbal or physical behavior that stigmatizes or victimizes an individual on the basis of race and involves an express or implied threat to another person’s academic pursuits or participation in activities sponsored by the University or organizations or groups related to the University. It was identical to a University of Michigan […]

    » Read More
  • No, Not Those Cartoons

    March 13, 2006

    Last week, Donn M. Fresard, the editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, wrote an editorial addressing the controversy surrounding several cartoons that the student paper published. One of the cartoons in question was a critique of affirmative action, and as Fresard notes, some students were offended: The most controversial of these cartoons portrayed a high school classroom full of dark-skinned students and one white student. At the front of the classroom, a black teacher tells the class that they can all expect special preferences when applying to college—except for Bob, the lone white student. Implicit in the drawing is […]

    » Read More
  • There Is No Such Thing as ‘Hate Speech’

    February 24, 2006

    Yes, that is correct. “Hate speech” is not a category of speech recognized under current constitutional law. It is merely a convenient way to pigeonhole speech that some people find offensive. But what is very troubling is when people begin to treat “hate speech” as unprotected speech. For example, a student leader at Penn State, a university which was recently sued for its unconstitutionally vague and overbroad speech codes, made the following comment featured in a prominent article in the student newspaper The Daily Collegian: “We support any and all university policies that prohibit intolerant actions against any student on […]

    » Read More
  • Practical Advice for Fraternities Caught in the Battle for Free Speech on Campus

    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