University of South Florida

Location: Tampa, Florida
Type: Public
Federal Circuit: 11th Circuit

Speech Code Rating

University of South Florida has been given the speech code rating Yellow. Yellow light colleges and universities are those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application. Read more here.

  • University of South Florida: Administrator Confuses Conservatives and Libertarians to Deny Group’s Recognition

    October 15, 2010

    The University of South Florida (USF) denied recognition to the conservative student organization Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), arguing that YAF was too “similar” to the libertarian Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) student group. YAF submitted its Chapter Constitution in April 2010, but Student Programs Coordinator Edna Jones Miller rejected the application several months later because “the purpose of your proposed organization may be fairly similar, if not the same, as another existing organization that is established at the USF Tampa campus” and “no other student organization can exist with the same or similar mission/purpose.” Meanwhile, other student groups with […]

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  • University of South Florida: The ‘Heckler’s Veto’

    January 29, 2002

    Computer Science Professor Sami Al-Arian no longer faces termination for his alleged “disruption” of university activities, which FIRE protested through a letter from Alan Charles Kors to University of South Florida (USF) President Judy Genshaft. In the letter, Kors denounced USF’s termination of Professor Al-Arian due to FIRE’s belief that his firing was an example of a “heckler’s veto,” which the letter deemed to be the public outcry against Professor Al-Arian shortly after FoxNews television host Bill O’Reilly’s implication that Professor Al-Arian was sympathetic to terrorists. While Professor Al-Arian is still terminated, USF changed the justification of his firing in […]

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Yellow Light Policies
  • Policy 0-004: Sexual Misconduct/Sexual Harassment (Including Sexual Violence)

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: June 9, 2016

    The following actions are prohibited:

    1. Sexual harassment, including sexual violence, by or between any faculty member, staff, or student, including individuals of the same sex, in all academic, educational, extracurricular, athletic, and other programs of the University, whether those programs take place in University facilities, at a class or training program sponsored by the University at another location, or elsewhere.

    6. Gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, non-verbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping, even if those acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature.

    Examples of prohibited conduct include, but are not limited to:

    1. Requesting or coercing sexual intercourse or sexual favors, or attempting to or actually engaging in a sexual assault or sexual battery.
    2. Inappropriate and unwelcome sexual attention or touching, including–but not limited to–leering, patting, fondling, pinching, and attempted or actual kissing.
    3. Making actual or implied threats to impede or interfere with employment or educational opportunities or benefits for failing to agree to or engage in sexual activity.
    4. Making actual or implied promises of an employment or educational opportunity or benefit in exchange for sexual activity.
    5. Inferring or displaying favoritism that benefits or adversely affects another based on sexual involvement or a sexual relationship.
    6. Making sexually explicit or suggestive gestures or sounds.

    Sexual Harassment (which includes sexual violence) is any of the conduct below:

    Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: a. Submission to such conduct is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of an individual’s employment or educational experience; b. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment or educational decisions affecting that individual; or c. Such conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to alter the conditions of, or have the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with, an individual’s work or academic performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or educational environment. This may include off-campus acts of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, that have effects on campus which may contribute to a sexually hostile environment.

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  • Division of Student Affairs: Commitment to Honor

    Speech Code Category: Policies Restricting Freedom of Conscience
    Last updated: June 9, 2016

    By joining this community, each member is expected to accept and live these commitments. … I resolve to respect the dignity and intrinsic value of all persons.

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  • Policy 0-007: Diversity and Equal Opportunity- Discrimination and Harassment

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: June 9, 2016

    A. The Following Actions Are Prohibited: 1. Discrimination and/or harassment by any USF System employee or student against any individual(s) or group(s) within the USF System.

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  • Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities: Title IX/Sexual Harassment Guide

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: June 9, 2016

    What is Sexual Harassment?

    Verbal or physical conduct that unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work or academic performance or creates an intimidating or hostile work or educational environment is considered harassment. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Both the victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. (

    Examples of sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:

    • an instructor suggests that a higher grade might be given to a student if the student submits to sexual advances
    • a supervisor implicitly or explicitly threatens termination if a subordinate refuses the supervisor’s sexual advances
    • a student repeatedly follows an instructor around campus and sends sexually explicit messages to the instructor’s voicemail, email, or cell phone
    • a student or employee touches you in an unwelcome, sexual manner without your consent
    • a student or employee repeatedly makes unwelcome comments about your body in person, on the phone, or in any other way
    • a student or employee records you engaged in sexual activity without your consent
    • students in a residence hall repeatedly draw sexually explicit graffiti on the whiteboard on your door
    • a student or employee exposes their sexual organs to you without your consent and in an unwelcomed manner


    Sexual Harassment: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

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  • USF6.0021: Student Code of Conduct

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: June 9, 2016

    Harassment – Conduct which creates an unsafe, intimidating or hazardous situation that interferes with the ability of a USF System student or employee to study, work, or carry out USF System functions.

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Green Light Policies
  • USF6.0021: Student Code of Conduct

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: June 9, 2016

    Sexual Harassment – unwelcome conduct directed at a person based on the person’s gender or sexual orientation that is so sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with, denies, or limits someone’s ability to participate in or benefit from the college’s educational program and/or activities, and is based on power differentials (quid pro quo), the creation of a hostile environment or retaliation, which includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

    Unwanted or Unwelcome Sexually Oriented Attention: unwanted or unwelcome sexually-oriented remarks or behaviors, that are so sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive, on the part of a person who knows or ought reasonably to know that such remarks or behavior unreasonably interferes with, denies, or limits someone’s ability to participate in or benefit from the college’s educational program and/or activities.

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  • Division of Student Affairs: Rights and Responsibilities

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: June 9, 2016

    Student rights…The constitutional rights of freedom of expression and assembly.

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  • Policy 0-018: Commercial Solicitation, Distribution of Literature and Other Speech Activities at USF

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies
    Last updated: June 9, 2016

    Other non-commercial material or literature, the author of which is identified, may be handed out in any outdoor University location open to the general public. Other non-commercial speech activities are permitted in outdoor University locations open to the general public exclusive of sidewalks, building entrances or other areas where normal traffic may be obstructed.

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  • USF Sues for Right to Fire Professor

    August 22, 2002

    By Anita Kumar at St. Petersburg Times USF says it can prove that professor Sami Al-Arian has ties to terrorists and asks the court to determine whether firing him would violate his constitutional rights. TAMPA — For months, it appeared that the University of South Florida was prepared to fire professor Sami Al-Arian for things he said and did after Sept. 11. On Wednesday the university dramatically changed course, saying it can prove that for 14 years Al-Arian has had ties to terrorists that have seriously damaged USF. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, USF accused Al-Arian of raising money for terrorist groups, […]

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  • USF President: Palestinian Prof has Terrorist Ties Should be Fired

    August 21, 2002

    By Rachel La Corte at The Associated Press State & Local Wire University of South Florida officials accused a tenured Palestinian professor of having terrorist ties and filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking a court to determine whether firing him would violate his free speech rights. The university filed a complaint for “declaratory relief” asking the courts to enter a judgment that its plan to fire computer science professor Sami Al-Arian would not violate his constitutional rights, USF President Judy Genshaft said at a campus news conference. The complaint was filed in state court in Tampa and includes the termination letter the university will […]

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  • Sami Al-Arian: Victim of Intolerance or Threat to a University’s Stability?

    February 6, 2002

    The Topic   Since September 11, there have been numerous incidents in which faculty members have been criticized for their comments about terrorism, U.S. foreign policy, and the Middle East. But only one tenured professor — Sami Al-Arian of the University of South Florida — faces the prospect of losing his job for his public comments. Mr. Al-Arian has been the source of controversy at the university for several years, with his critics saying that his comments about Israel promote hate and his defenders saying that he is a caring professor whose comments — however controversial — must be defended […]

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  • Some really offensive ideas on campus

    February 3, 2002

    A university is a place of open inquiry, vigorous intellectual debate and untrammeled scholarly freedom. But during a national crisis, even universities sometimes take the position that if you can’t say the right thing, you should put a sock in it. In past emergencies, the suppression of dissent has been commonplace and thoroughly popular. During World War I, pacifists, leftists and other opponents of the U.S. military effort were sent to prison for their trouble. President Nixon’s fury at the anti-war movement led to the abuses of the Watergate scandal. So it would not have been surprising to see a […]

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  • USF President’s Choice Carries Ramifications

    February 2, 2002

    By Graham Brink at St. Petersburg Times University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft says her decision on whether to fire controversial professor Sami Al-Arian is one of the most important in the school’s 46-year history. But the stakes may be just as high for her. Some academics think a decision to fire Al-Arian could cripple any ambitions she may harbor to run a more prestigious university. “At good universities, the faculty have power and those faculties would never agree to someone being hired who is widely believed to have caved in to political pressure,” said Roy Weatherford, president of USF’s faculty union. […]

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  • USF Faculty Union Supports Al-Arian

    January 11, 2002

    By Babita Persaud at St. Petersburg Times A union representing University of South Florida professors voted Thursday night to throw its full support behind fired professor Sami Al-Arian as he fights to regain his job at USF. The meeting of the United Faculty of Florida, held off campus at a pizza parlor on Fowler Avenue, was attended by Al-Arian, a union member, and about 40 faculty members. “We are on record saying they did the wrong thing,” said Roy Weatherford, president of the union’s USF chapter. USF president Judy Genshaft decided to fire Al-Arian on Dec. 19, saying his presence on campus […]

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  • Boston College Students Experience the Benefits of True Civil Debate

    October 7, 2013

    “Civility” is one of the words that sets off alarm bells at FIRE. (No, it’s not because we’re unusually rude.) Many universities have enacted “civility codes,” ostensibly to maintain a respectful and inclusive atmosphere on campus. But, as my colleague Samantha Harris has pointed out, this is often censorship by another name. If you curtail how someone expresses him or herself, you may also restrict the message they can convey. Free speech cannot be subjected to a politeness requirement. As Justice Harlan observed in Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 25 (1971): For, while the particular four-letter word being litigated […]

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  • USF Student Newspaper Reports on Speech Codes; Administration Defensive

    July 12, 2013

    The University of South Florida’s student newspaper, The Oracle, published a comprehensive story on free speech at USF this week. The article leads off with an example that illustrates a problem all too common on today’s college campuses: Students seek to express themselves on an issue of political or social importance, but instead of helping to facilitate open debate, the university administration throws up roadblocks. As detailed in The Oracle article: When students organized a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Trayvon Martin last February, conflict occurred between the student organizations and university administration over whether a permit for the event […]

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  • USF Polytechnic Clears Student of Disciplinary Charges For Sending Critical Emails

    December 16, 2011

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the troubles faced by University of South Florida Polytechnic student Michael Nacrelli. To bring you up to speed: Nacrelli, a Student Government senator, faced charges of “disruptive conduct” and “failure to follow instructions” last month following a series of emails criticizing student government on which he copied several of his fellow Senators, in spite of requests from a USF administrator that he not do so. (USF’s newspaper, The Oracle, gives a good rundown.)  Fortunately, as Mary Toothman of The Ledger (Lakeland, Fl.) now writes, USF Polytechnic has cleared him of any potential […]

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  • Double Standard at USF Parodied by Mike Adams

    December 1, 2010

    Did the University of South Florida (USF) deny recognition to the Young Pakistani student group because they were too “similar” to the Young Indian student group? Read Mike Adams’ parody of what happened to the conservative Young Americans for Freedom when USF denied recognition to them for being too “similar” to coexist with the libertarian Young Americans for Liberty on campus.

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  • University Recognizes Young Americans for Freedom: Conservative and Libertarian Groups Were Too ‘Similar’ to Coexist

    November 30, 2010

    TAMPA, Nov. 30, 2010—The University of South Florida (USF) has reversed its denial of recognition to the conservative Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) student group. USF had argued that YAF was too “similar” to the libertarian Young Americans for Liberty on campus. After USF denied YAF’s application for recognition, YAF came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. “Let me get this straight: USF recognizes over 60 multicultural groups, no fewer than 20 engineering clubs, and even a group solely devoted to appreciation for Nerf products, but a conservative group was considered too similar to a […]

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  • Whose Far Is ‘Too Far’?

    February 15, 2005

    While many agree that Ward Churchill’s academic freedom should be protected, many have also condemned his essay and, outside of his expression, have also condemned him—by questioning and ridiculing his character and ethnic background. Despite others’ negative interpretations of his words and assessment of his competence, Churchill recently received a standing ovation when giving a speech affirming his views and defending his expression at the University of Colorado. In addition, his press release provides his own reaction to the public outcry against him: I am not a “defender” of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that if U.S. […]

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  • University of South Florida Makes a U-Turn: FIRE and the Case of Sami Al-Arian

    August 30, 2002

    TAMPA, Fla., August 30, 2002—Vindicating FIRE’s position, the University of South Florida (USF) has abandoned its claim that negative reactions to Professor Sami Al-Arian’s otherwise protected speech constituted appropriate grounds to fire him. USF now has set forth charges of sanctionable and criminal behavior against the tenured professor of computer science, against which he now must have the opportunity to defend himself in an appropriate and impartial forum. USF now bears a substantial burden of proving the serious charges it has lodged against its faculty member. On September 26, 2001, Sami Al-Arian, an outspoken Palestinian activist, appeared on the television […]

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