Vanderbilt University

Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Type: Private
Federal Circuit: 6th Circuit

Speech Code Rating

Vanderbilt University 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.

Yellow Light Policies
  • Student Handbook: Student Accountability- Violation of University Policy

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility
    Last updated: September 6, 2016

    Students are subject to disciplinary action when, individually or as members of a group, they violate university policy, rules, or regulations, including but not limited to the following:

    . . .

    Disorderly conduct;

    Lewd or lascivious conduct or expression;

    . . .

    » Read More

  • Student Handbook: Sexual Misconduct and Intimate Partner Violence

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: September 6, 2016

    Sexual Harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, and may include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or nonverbal conduct of a sexual nature. It may be based on or result from power differentials, the creation of a hostile environment (defined below), or retaliation.

    Sexual Harassment – Hostile Environment is harassing conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent that it interferes with or limits the ability of a member of the community to participate in or to receive benefits, services, or opportunities from the University’s programs or activities. One instance that is sufficiently severe, such as a sexual assault or rape, can create a hostile environment.

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Green Light Policies
  • Student Handbook: Student Accountability- Threat, Harassment, Intimidation, Etc.

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: September 6, 2016

    Vanderbilt University expects students to refrain from conduct that threatens or, through intimidation, or harassment, unreasonably impairs the security or privacy of another member of the University community by any means, including through the use of electronic communications, social media, computers, or data networks. Such conduct is a violation of University policy and may result in corrective action through the University’s accountability process.

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  • Student Handbook: Student Engagement- Freedom of Expression

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: September 6, 2016

    As an institution of higher learning dedicated to research, teaching, and service, Vanderbilt is firmly committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression, and will maintain the conditions of freedom of inquiry, thought, and discussion on campus.

    » Read More

  • 2 High-Profile Cases Offer Glimpse of Future Trends in Campus Sex Assaults

    June 19, 2016

    By Katherine Mangan at The Chronicle of Higher Education One had just finished his first semester of college; the other was beginning his last. Both were accomplished athletes at prestigious universities who ended up making national headlines for the wrong reasons, when they were expelled for sexual assault… Read more here.

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  • 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.

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  • Making Exclusive Clubs More Inclusive

    May 24, 2016

    By Jake New at Inside Higher Ed Looking to end “a system of privilege and oppression,” Northwestern University announced last week that most student groups on campus must begin admitting any interested students by next year or they will lose university funding. That could mean groups like the campus food magazine Spoon University and the student-run marketing firm Form & Function Marketing, which have in the past been selective, would have to take all who want to join… Read more here.

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  • Universities are Missing the Point by Emphasizing ‘Diversity,’ American U. Official Says

    April 4, 2016

    By Greg Piper at The College Fix WASHINGTON – College administrators are squarely to blame for the rise of student activism that tries to suppress the free expression of ideas, one such administrator said at a Saturday conference on campus free speech sponsored by the Newseum Institute and Knight Foundation… Read more here.

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  • Looking for a College With Political Diversity? Here’s a Few Options and Ones to Avoid

    December 5, 2015

    By Ray Nothstine at The Christian Post Universities and colleges often make rapt headlines for political radicalism, but a diverse, well-rounded higher education may be more available than you think. Backlash against liberal institutions have essentially been on the rise since conservative giant William F. Buckley, Jr. published God and Man at Yale in 1951. The National Review founder and publisher lamented the worldview of his alma mater in the famous book declaring, “The academic community has in it the biggest concentration of alarmists, cranks and extremists this side of the giggle house.” Heterodox Academy, whose mission is to “increase viewpoint […]

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  • How Parents can Avoid Spending Thousands on Colleges that Host Student Storm-Troopers

    December 1, 2015

    By Thomas Sowell at New York Post Storm trooper tactics by bands of college students making ideological demands across the country, and immediate pre-emptive surrender by college administrators — such as at the University of Missouri recently — bring back memories of the 1960s for those of us old enough to remember what it was like being there and seeing firsthand how painful events unfolded. At Harvard back in 1969, students seized control of the administration building and began releasing to the media information from confidential personnel files of professors. But when university president Nathan Pusey called in the police […]

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  • The Campus Threat to Free Speech

    November 30, 2015

    By Mary Reichard at World News Group Before a University of Missouri communications professor summoned “muscle” to help shut down a student reporter at a protest, a Yale University student shouted down a professor, saying, “You should not sleep at night! You are disgusting!” These are just two notable, recent reminders that restrictions on free speech at places of higher learning are becoming increasingly commonplace. At Vanderbilt University, professor Carol Swain has been ferociously targeted for her non-politically correct ideas. She’s professed her Christian faith and conservative ideas at the college for 26 years now. The attacks on her started […]

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  • College Protests Lack Right Solutions

    November 19, 2015

    By Tallahassee Democrat at The mess at the University of Missouri recently is sending ripples of racial unrest through university campuses nationwide, with some significant long-term implications for American education and politics — as well as the news media. In a little more than 36 hours, thousands of students protesting what they consider the University of Missouri administration’s insensitivity to some ugly racist provocations forced university President Tim Wolfe to resign. The university chancellor also announced plans to quit soon, and Wolfe was replaced on an interim basis by Michael Middleton, a black man who was the deputy chancellor, as well […]

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  • Our opinion: Free speech 101: Don’t stifle it

    November 15, 2015

    By Staff at Tallahassee Democrat The mess at Mizzou is sending ripples of racial unrest through university campuses nationwide, with some significant long-term implications for American education and politics — as well as the news media. In a little more than 36 hours early last week, thousands of students protesting what they consider the University of Missouri administration’s insensitivity to some ugly racist provocations forced university President Tim Wolfe to resign. The university chancellor also announced plans to quit soon, and Wolfe was replaced on an interim basis by Michael Middleton, a black man who was the deputy chancellor, as […]

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  • Virginia bans campus ‘all-comers’ policies

    February 25, 2013

    Ban protects campus groups’ right to only select members who agree with their mission by Leigh Jones World on Campus   Virginia lawmakers voted earlier this week to give college campus groups the right to restrict membership to students who agree with their mission. The bill is designed to prevent state universities from enacting “all-comers” policies, which undermine the ability of religious and political organizations to form around a specific set of beliefs. “It’s pretty simple: A Democratic club shouldn’t have to accept a Republican as a member and members of a religious group should be able to expect that […]

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  • Bill Allowing Christian Student Orgs to Choose Membership Advances in Va. Legislature

    February 11, 2013

    A bill that would allow religious and political student organizations in public institutions to choose their own standards for membership continues to make its way through the Virginia Legislature. Known as Senate Bill 1074, the proposed legislation would bar public educational institutions from determining the membership rules for religious and political student groups.   “Permits, to the extent allowed by law, religious or political student organizations at public institutions of higher education to determine that only persons committed to the organization’s mission may conduct certain activities,” reads the official summary of SB 1074.   “The bill also prohibits, to the extent allowed […]

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  • OK to discriminate against Christians, says law, Vandy

    December 1, 2011

    Four Christian groups at Vanderbilt University are “under a serious threat” from the legal and cultural climates and may soon be booted from the campus because of a new university policy that says they must accept anyone and everyone into their organizations. Vanderbilt adopted the policy after an on-campus Christian group expelled a member because of his homosexual relations (see earlier story). Robert Sibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) warns that an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case could do further damage “by specifically setting out the principle that religious groups can be discriminated against when it comes to […]

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  • Vanderbilt University nondiscrimination policy called unfair to religious groups

    September 27, 2011

    Vanderbilt University’s review of student organizations’ obedience to its nondiscrimination policy has some students, professors and outside advocates saying the university itself is the one doing the discriminating. Vanderbilt has asked “a dozen or so” student groups, including five religious ones, to come into compliance with the policy, which says the Nashville school doesn’t discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Those groups, which the university declined to identify, have been given provisional status for the time being but could ultimately lose access to Vanderbilt funding and facilities if they don’t comply. “We are committed […]

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  • Vanderbilt Faculty Adopts Free Expression Statement

    October 10, 2016

    Vanderbilt University is the latest in a series of universities across the country to articulate a commitment to free expression on campus: Vanderbilt’s faculty senate has officially adopted an “Academic Freedom of Expression Statement,” declaring the faculty’s commitment to the promotion and protection of free expression and the exchange of ideas. The statement promises: As an institution committed to the advancement of knowledge, and as a training ground for the intellectual, social, and ethical leaders of the future, the university is the arena where difficult conversations and seemingly heretical thoughts deserve exploration and protection. While the statement isn’t perfect, it’s […]

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  • Speech Code Countdown: ‘U.S. News’ Top 25 College Rankings, Numbers 19-11

    October 6, 2016

    FIRE’s U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” Countdown continues today. We’re giving you a school-by-school analysis of just how well America’s “Best Colleges” do when it comes to protecting free speech on campus. Unfortunately, in today’s crop of top campuses, troubling speech codes abound. As part of FIRE’s fresh look at U.S. News’ top-ranked colleges, we used information from our Spotlight speech code database as well as information on other headline-making free speech news that applicants should know about before they apply to a given school. FIRE rates schools’ speech codes using a traffic light-inspired system. A “red light” […]

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  • Mixed Responses to Vanderbilt Professor’s Op-Ed on Islam

    January 22, 2015

    Last week, Vanderbilt University Law School professor Carol Swain, writing in the aftermath of the recent attacks against the French publication Charlie Hebdo, penned an op-ed for The Tennessean arguing that Islam is a uniquely dangerous religion. Many in the Vanderbilt community objected to the piece—some urging her to engage with Muslim students, and others labeling the column “hate speech” and suggesting Swain should no longer teach at Vanderbilt. Thankfully, the response from Vanderbilt Associate Provost and Dean of Students Mark Bandas properly emphasized the importance of standing by principles of free speech, particularly “when polarizing speech is shared.” According […]

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  • ‘New York Times’ Columnist David Brooks Calls for End to Speech Codes

    January 13, 2015

    As advocates for free expression struggle to come to terms with last week’s tragic and deadly attack against the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, many are asking questions about what this means for freedom of speech everywhere, including in the United States. Last Thursday, New York Times columnist David Brooks asked those who have taken up the cause of free speech in response to the horrific violence against Charlie Hebdo cartoonists to defend speech at all times, even closer to home. If you missed it, it’s well worth a read. In particular, Brooks wonders about Americans’ commitment to defending free […]

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  • A Victim of Vanderbilt’s So-Called ‘All-Comers’ Policy Speaks Out

    August 27, 2014

    Tish Harrison Warren, a former religious student group leader at Vanderbilt University, has authored a poignant article in Christianity Today about the effect on her life of a policy decision Vanderbilt made two years ago.

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  • Former FIRE Intern Weighs in on Vandy Sexual Assault Scandal

    September 30, 2013

    One of FIRE’s favorite things to see is its former interns returning to school to advocate for individual rights on their campuses. So folks here at FIRE were excited to see 2013 intern Madeline Gootman publish an editorial commenting on the recent attempts by Vanderbilt alumni to get their school to respond more directly to a recent sexual assault that occurred on campus. Maddie writes: Vanderbilt is an educational institution, not a justice organization. When Vanderbilt officials learned about the assault, they did not cover it up as many other universities have done, though they had ample opportunity, since the university […]

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  • KC Johnson Praises Vanderbilt Handing Rape Case to Nashville Police

    August 15, 2013

    Yesterday on Minding the Campus, Brooklyn College professor KC Johnson noted Vanderbilt University’s actions following recent accusations that four former football players raped another Vanderbilt student while she was unconscious: University police reported the case to Nashville Police for investigation and criminal prosecution. In his article, Johnson contrasts Vanderbilt’s response to the allegations with the disciplinary hearing processes conducted at most colleges, and he advocates for schools to follow Vanderbilt’s lead. Johnson criticizes the lack of due process afforded accused students in cases where sexual assault cases are handled internally: [There] is a basic assumption[] that campus rape is the […]

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  • Private Universities and the Conflict Between Mission and Speech

    July 15, 2013

    Madeline Gootman is a FIRE summer intern. When private universities send out their shiny pamphlets to high school seniors, they highlight their commitment to all things politically correct and otherwise acceptable in academia. However, these commitments to civility, respect, and social comfort are often at odds with the broad promises of free speech that universities make to their incoming students. Unfortunately for students, too many private universities want to have it both ways, promising students the right to free speech and then violating that right when someone’s speech proves too unpopular or controversial. Vanderbilt University’s packet for recently admitted students […]

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  • Three Vanderbilt Students Teach a Freshman about Free Speech

    April 22, 2013

    Last week, in an article for the Vanderbilt Hustler titled “Chalk Gods,” Vanderbilt University freshman Rani Banjarian wrote about feeling marginalized by religious messages written in chalk on the campus pavement:  Trudging resolutely forward in my 7:55 a.m. stupor, functioning on fewer than five hours of sleep, I found myself particularly put-off by the statements of God’s greatness and His love that screamed out at me incessantly. I almost wanted to pull my backpack up around my head, duck and make a run for it, and while my questioning the intentions of those chalk markings is not as extreme, I […]

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  • Tennessee Legislators Introduce New Bill to Combat ‘All-Comers’ Policies

    February 18, 2013

    Last May, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed a bill that would have prohibited public institutions of higher education located in Tennessee from maintaining “all-comers” policies, while stripping state funding from large private universities that chose to do so (such as Vanderbilt University). These controversial policies prohibit student organizations, most notably religious and political groups, from making belief-based decisions about leadership and membership. (For more background on Vanderbilt and on all-comers policies, check out this column my colleague Robert Shibley published last year.) Earlier this month, new bills (SB 0802 and HB 0534) were introduced in the Tennessee Legislature to revisit […]

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  • Student Column Urges Vanderbilt to Reconsider Stance on Belief-Based Groups

    August 23, 2012

    “Considering the damage it has done to the diversity of student organizations on campus, the policy deserves continued debate and Vanderbilt should reconsider its stance on the issue.” That’s what Vanderbilt University junior and 2011 FIRE intern Kenny Tan has to say about his school’s controversial “all-comers” policy, implemented during the 2011–2012 school year and in full effect as students head back to campus this week. Yesterday, Kenny penned an article for The Vanderbilt Hustler explaining the policy for new students, who may not be familiar with the debate.  Vandy’s all-comers policy requires that all registered student groups accept any […]

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  • FIRE’s New Video Featured in ‘Daily Caller’

    August 20, 2012

    Fresh off the release of our new short documentary, “Exiled from Vanderbilt: How Colleges Are Driving Religious Groups Off Campus,” FIRE’s Robert Shibley has written a new column for The Daily Caller exploring the Vanderbilt case and the video’s message. Visit The Daily Caller to learn more and be sure to check out “Exiled from Vanderbilt”!

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  • Exiled from Vanderbilt: How Colleges are Driving Religious Groups off Campus

    August 20, 2012

    Featuring Larry Gatlin and Jonathan Rauch! Religious and political groups in the United States have traditionally been free to choose their leaders and members without interference from authorities. That’s no longer true at Vanderbilt University, where the school banned belief-based groups from making belief-based decisions about their members and leaders and drove 13 religious student groups off of campus. In this video, FIRE talks to Vanderbilt students and faculty about how this decision is affecting them. Country music legend Larry Gatlin and author and scholar Jonathan Rauch also explain why Vanderbilt has done both its students and the idea of […]

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  • New FIRE Video: How Religious Groups Were ‘Exiled from Vanderbilt,’ Featuring Larry Gatlin and Jonathan Rauch

    August 20, 2012

    Religious and political groups in the United States have traditionally been free to choose their leaders and members without interference from authorities. That’s no longer true at Vanderbilt University, where the school banned belief-based groups from making belief-based decisions about their members and leaders and drove 13 religious student groups off of campus. In “Exiled from Vanderbilt: How Colleges are Driving Religious Groups Off Campus,” FIRE talks to Vanderbilt students and faculty about how this decision is affecting them. Country music legend Larry Gatlin and author and scholar Jonathan Rauch also explain why Vanderbilt has done both its students and the idea […]

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  • Belief-Based Student Groups Score a Win at SUNY – Buffalo

    August 15, 2012

    For some time now, Vanderbilt University has been ground zero in the battle to decide whether belief-based student groups on college campuses will be allowed to make membership and leadership decisions that are influenced by their core beliefs. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, this has been a thorny legal issue, one that has come to a head at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt has taken a firm stance against student groups’ belief-based decisionmaking, enacting an extreme policy that even forbids religious groups from requiring their leaders to lead Bible studies, prayer, or worship. […]

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  • Fight for Religious Liberty Continues

    May 23, 2012

    In what can serve as an excellent lesson for campus officials who target the associational rights of their students, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) has reversed its ruling against a campus religious group and will now allow the club to operate at UNCG. Citizen Link reports that the school reversed its denial of recognition to the Make Up Your Own Mind club after the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the school for refusing to accept the club’s religious status and belief-based membership requirements. The decision comes in light of the ongoing debate at Vanderbilt University […]

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  • Vanderbilt Reaps What it Sows: Tennessee Legislature Passes Bill Banning ‘All Comers’ Policy

    May 2, 2012

    Vanderbilt’s assault on religious liberty on campus looks like it’s headed for a crushing, if utterly predictable, defeat. Last night, the Tennessee legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would ban Tennessee’s public universities as well as any private university that gets more than $24 million in funding a year (there’s only one: Vanderbilt!) from telling religious student groups that they can’t have belief-based requirements for membership or leadership. Interestingly, the legislature did give Vanderbilt an out: If it’s willing to apply an “all comers” policy to fraternities, sororities, and all other groups as well, it can keep its “all comers” […]

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  • Vanderbilt Update: Board of Trust Urged to Reverse Discriminatory Policy

    April 19, 2012

    Vanderbilt University’s Board of Trust is meeting late this week in the context of a hailstorm of local and national criticism of Vanderbilt’s new, discriminatory policy. The new policy, which prohibits belief-based student organizations from requiring that their leaders share the group’s beliefs, has sent the organization Vanderbilt Catholic off campus (the organization may not use Vanderbilt’s name anymore) and led 11 student organizations to defy the ban. FIRE has been fighting for religious liberty at Vanderbilt since last September, and in October, 23 members of Congress intervened to no avail.  State legislators in Tennessee are now working to ban […]

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  • 11 More Vanderbilt Student Groups Revolt over New Discriminatory Policy

    April 11, 2012

    After Vanderbilt University issued a new, discriminatory policy that prevents religious student groups from maintaining belief-based membership and leadership requirements, 11 Vanderbilt student organizations have refused to accept second-class status at the university because of their beliefs. Organized together as Vanderbilt Solidarity, these organizations have applied for recognition as belief-based groups. Their decision follows the choice of the student group Vanderbilt Catholic to accept self-exile by no longer officially registering with Vanderbilt rather than lose its unique identity.  Vanderbilt has refused to permit belief-based groups to maintain their missions despite significant national outrage, including intervention by FIRE and many others. […]

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  • ‘Huffington Post’: Catholic Group Withdraws from Vanderbilt over New Policy

    April 9, 2012

    FIRE is not alone in noting that the student organization Vanderbilt Catholic has withdrawn from Vanderbilt University due to Vanderbilt University’s infringement on student groups’ freedom of association. Writing for The Huffington Post, Tyler Kingkade points out that under Vanderbilt’s new non-discrimination policy, a faith-based organization like Vanderbilt Catholic can no longer require that leaders of the group share its core beliefs and values. This fundamental denial of students’ right to associate around shared beliefs has forced Vanderbilt Catholic (and possibly other groups in the near future) to disaffiliate with the school and lose official student organization status, which means […]

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  • Vanderbilt University’s Non-Discrimination Policy Causes Catholic Student Group To Leave Campus

    April 2, 2012

    by Tyler Kingkade The Huffington Post   Vanderbilt University’s Catholic student group is disaffiliating with the school due to a clash with the college’s non-discrimination policy. Vandy Catholic, a group with 500 members, disagrees that they must permit non-Catholic students to serve in leadership positions. While Vandy Catholic isn’t forced to give non-Catholic students leadership positions within the group, they aren’t permitted to disqualify somebody because of their differing beliefs either. “Our policy requires that all students are presumed to be eligible for membership in registered student organizations and that all organization members in good standing are eligible to compete for leadership […]

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  • Vanderbilt Drives Out the Catholics–Who’s Next?

    March 29, 2012

    When Vanderbilt University introduced its new “nondiscrimination policy” for registered student organizations back in January of this year, the Vandy administration was met with an irate group of students from religious student organizations that would be negatively affected by the new rule. As these students—along with many other organizations and individuals, including the Christian Legal Society, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nashville, the American Center for Law and Justice, more than half a dozen law professors, and 23 members of the U.S. Congress—pointed out at the time, the policy essentially dictates that religious and political organizations cannot determine their leadership […]

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  • Law Professor Explores Freedom of Association Controversy at Vanderbilt

    March 20, 2012

    In an article for the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse last week, University of St. Thomas law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen addresses Vanderbilt University’s controversial decision to institute an “all-comers” policy for student organizations on campus. As Paulsen explains, the policy forbids students groups from “impos[ing] faith-based or belief-based requirements for membership or leadership.” In his piece, Paulsen explores what he calls the “irony” of the constitutional principles and court decisions relating to freedom of expressive association, noting that the same freedom that protects the rights of individuals to form organizations based on shared beliefs also guards Vanderbilt’s ability as a […]

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  • All-Comers Supporters: Don’t Worry, Bad Things will ‘Never Happen’!

    February 23, 2012

    If tomorrow the laws against insider trading were revoked in their entirety, would you expect more insider trading to take place, or about the same amount? If you think more would result, congratulations; you apply logic the way most people do. But if you think there would be no effect, I think I might have found someone who agrees with you. In a recent Associated Press article about the trend of universities considering the adoption of “all-comers” policies banning belief-based student groups from making belief-based choices about their membership or leadership, I was quoted warning of some of the potential […]

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  • Help FIRE Defend Liberty on Campus

    February 23, 2012

    This year is shaping up to be an important one for campus liberty. In the past two months alone, we celebrated the inclusion of the University of Mississippi on our exclusive list of “green light” schools, won an important legal victory in Barnes v. Zaccari, and secured a quick resolution to an outrageous case at Syracuse University. Each of these victories provides testament to our continued commitment to defending the expressive rights of students and faculty on campus. And, of course, today we announced a lawsuit aimed at removing an unconstitutional speech code at the University of Cincinnati. But a […]

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  • FIRE in ‘National Review Online’ on Impact of Discriminatory ‘All-Comers’ Policy at Vanderbilt

    February 6, 2012

    This morning in National Review Online, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley explores the negative impact of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez for students at Vanderbilt and nationwide. Focusing on Vanderbilt University’s recent invocation of the case to justify its decision to ban belief-based student groups from requiring that group leaders actually share the group’s stated values, Robert writes: The complications of adopting [“all-comers”] policies have delayed their adoption by many public universities. Ohio even passed a law against such policies at its state schools. Yet the Supreme Court’s seeming endorsement inspired Vanderbilt to […]

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  • After Vandy’s Ill-Advised Choice, Revisiting ‘CLS v. Martinez’ Warning

    February 1, 2012

    Last night, Vanderbilt University held a “town hall”discussion of its decision to require registered student groups to accept all students in leadership positions, barring belief-based student groups from requiring that leaders actually agree with the group’s stated mission. According to The Tennessean, more than 200 students participated, and FIRE has received reports from students that the discussion, planned for 90 minutes, ran for over three hours.   Vanderbilt student publication reported that tensions were extraordinarily high:  This pressure reached its breaking point when starting quarterback for the Vanderbilt Commodores Jordan Rodgers spoke out on behalf of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes, a group currently […]

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  • Debate Over Religious Freedom Comes to a Head at Vanderbilt

    January 31, 2012

    This evening, Vanderbilt University will hold a town hall “discussion” about its new nondiscrimination policy that prevents belief-based student groups from making belief-based decisions about their leadership. Vanderbilt effectively is discriminating against political and religious groups that seek to promote a common message. Vanderbilt has told students that their organizations are engaging in prohibited discrimination if they require that leaders of the Vanderbilt College Democrats be Democrats, that Christian groups be Christian, that Muslim groups be Muslim, that single-sex singing groups maintain their identity, or that political publications exclude students who do not share their views. This is huge news […]

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  • FIRE’s Open Letter to Vanderbilt Regarding Religious and Political Organizations

    January 27, 2012

    In an open letter today, FIRE asks Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos important questions about how Vanderbilt will handle the ramifications of its recent decision to ban political and religious student groups on campus from making leadership decisions based on their core beliefs. FIRE points out that Vanderbilt must be willing to explain whether the university will, for example, force a Muslim group whose leader converts to Christianity to retain that person as a leader, or whether politically oriented student newspapers will now be forced to accept columnists who denigrate the newspaper’s own beliefs.  The full text of the letter […]

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  • George Will Castigates Vanderbilt for Discrimination Against Belief-Based Student Groups

    November 3, 2011

    Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will, writing in The Washington Post, takes Vanderbilt University to task for its new policy prohibiting certain student organizations from instituting belief-based requirements that their members or officers affirm the official values of the group. FIRE has been actively working to turn back this violation of student groups’ right to freedom of association, as have 23 members of Congress. Most recently, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley wrote about the matter in The Daily Caller. (Will’s column also points readers to this Torch piece on the case that Robert wrote in September.) Will reminds us of the Supreme Court’s previous wisdom on freedom of association-which […]

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  • Robert on Vanderbilt’s Nondiscrimination Policy Issues in ‘The Daily Caller’

    November 1, 2011

    In light of recent transgressions by Vanderbilt University against the freedoms of religion and association, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley has penned an opinion article in The Daily Caller bringing some attention to the absurdity of Vanderbilt’s student group policies when dealing with the Vanderbilt chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) and other religious student groups. Robert writes: Nobody should be surprised that religious groups, on or off campus, prefer to be led by people who share their faith. Demanding that a religious student group not ask its leaders to share the beliefs of the group serves no one. Who benefits when nonbelievers have […]

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  • FIRE Asks Vanderbilt to Respect Religious Liberty

    September 29, 2011

    Fox News Channel and Nashville newspaper The Tennessean are reporting on an ongoing controversy over religious student groups at Vanderbilt University. The Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter at Vanderbilt Law School is among about a dozen student organizations (including five religious groups) that have seen their constitutions “deferred” rather than approved this year for noncompliance with Vanderbilt’s nondiscrimination policy. FIRE has written a letter to Vanderbilt expressing our concerns about this new application of its policy, and is requesting a response by October 3. At issue are two of CLS’s requirements for group leaders. First, CLS’s consitution states that “All officers of this […]

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  • FIRE Intern in ‘Tennesseean’ on Vanderbilt’s Online ‘Free Speech Zone’

    July 11, 2011

    FIRE intern and Vanderbilt University student Kenny Tan published an op-ed in yesterday’s Tennessean, Nashville’s city newspaper, detailing the ways in which Vanderbilt’s “no hate speech” rule in an online forum contradicts Vanderbilt’s stated promises of encouraging academic debate through freedom of expression. In his op-ed, Kenny points out how critical open discourse is to education and how putting limitations on a purported “Free Speech Zone” is contrary to Vanderbilt’s ideals: “Hate speech” is an ambiguous term often used to investigate and punish students for speech deemed insensitive about any person or group. But there is no “hate speech” exception to […]

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  • ‘Free Speech Zone’ and Doublespeak Online at Vanderbilt

    June 27, 2011

    On Vanderbilt University’s Common Place, a blog maintained by the university for first-year students, a new feature named “Free Speech Zone” was recently added. This feature is essentially a forum in which students may post. However, there are three rules in this forum: “No hate speech,” “No paid advertisements,” and “No organized crime.” This new feature, while seemingly innocuous and a good idea as a place for students to post messages, poses a threat to students’ understanding of free speech. For starters, members of the public cannot, consistent with First Amendment rights, be punished by the government for “hate speech,” […]

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  • This Week in the News: Adam’s Vanderbilt Speech Still Provoking Discussion

    March 11, 2011

    Torch readers will remember that Adam delivered a speech at Vanderbilt University on February 23rd about Vanderbilt’s restrictive policies and free speech violations at other institutions. Trevor Williams of The Vanderbilt Torch (no relation) was the most recent author to write about Adam’s critique of Vanderbilt’s sexual harassment policy, community creed, and other speech-restrictive policies. Out west, the Idaho State Board of Education voted to suspend the Idaho State University (ISU) Faculty Senate on February 17, just one week after the Faculty Senate recorded a vote of no confidence in ISU President Arthur C. Vailas. A recent post in The […]

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  • CFN Member Responds to Criticism of Red-Light Rating in ‘The Vanderbilt Hustler’

    March 4, 2011

    Last Friday, The Vanderbilt Hustler published a column by student Katie Des Prez which questioned FIRE’s assessment of the Vanderbilt Community Creed as well as the school’s sexual harassment policies. FIRE’s own Samantha Harris penned a response for The Torch to explain the chilling effect of Vanderbilt’s red-light policies, and called on Vanderbilt to uphold its own promises of free speech on campus. Kenny Tan, a Vanderbilt freshman and CFN member who organized Adam’s recent campus speech, also submitted a letter to the editor of the Hustler this week in response to Des Prez, using quotes from Sam’s blog: Harris […]

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  • FIRE ‘Protecting Sexual Abusers’ at Vanderbilt?

    February 28, 2011

    Last week, following Adam’s talk on the state of student rights at Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt senior Katie Des Prez penned a column in the student newspaper, The Vanderbilt Hustler, about FIRE’s criticism of the university’s speech code. Specifically, Des Prez takes issue with FIRE’s “red light” rating of Vanderbilt, arguing that the university’s restrictions on speech are wholly appropriate and that FIRE’s call for Vanderbilt to revise its speech code amounts to “protecting sexual abusers.” As Des Prez points out, Vanderbilt is a private university, and as such is not legally bound by the First Amendment, which prevents public universities […]

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  • Student Asks Vanderbilt to Uphold Free Speech Promises

    September 3, 2010

    In a letter to the editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler student newspaper, Vanderbilt University student Kenny Tan highlights the dissonance he sees, as an incoming freshman, between Vanderbilt’s free speech promises and the university’s Community Creed. Tan, who attended our CFN Conference this July, quotes the Student Handbook first: The Student Handbook states: “The University is committed to providing opportunities for the free and open exchange of ideas both inside and outside the classroom. It will safeguard the undisturbed, orderly expression of diverse views and opinions as well as the opportunity for their careful examination.” … Of this provision, he […]

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  • The State of Free Speech on Campus: Vanderbilt University

    February 17, 2009

    Throughout the spring semester, FIRE is drawing special attention to the state of free speech at America’s top 25 national universities (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report). Today we review policies at Vanderbilt University. Vanderbilt receives a red-light rating, which means it maintains at least one policy that clearly and substantially restricts protected speech. Because Vanderbilt is a private university, however, we must first explain why we believe students and faculty there are entitled to the same expressive rights they would have at a public university bound by the First Amendment. Simply put, the answer is found in […]

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