Vanderbilt University

Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Type: Private
Tell Vanderbilt University to revise its speech policies by filling out this form.

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

Due Process Rating

Non-Sexual Misconduct

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Sexual Misconduct

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  • Student Handbook: Student Engagement- Freedom of Expression

    Speech Code Rating: Yellow
    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies
    Last updated: June 19, 2018

    Persons who distribute printed materials or materials on electronic media are responsible for the contents. Students may distribute leaflets, informational sheets, compact discs, or similar materials on Rand Terrace or outside the building in which a meeting has been scheduled by another organization, if the distrib... Read More
  • Student Handbook: Student Accountability- Violation of University Policy

    Speech Code Rating: Yellow
    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility
    Last updated: June 20, 2018

    Students are subject to corrective action when, individually or as members of a group, they violate University policy, rules, or regulations, including but not limited to the following: … Lewd or lascivious conduct or expression; Read More
  • Student Handbook: Sexual Misconduct and Intimate Partner Violence

    Speech Code Rating: Green
    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: June 19, 2018

    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, ... Read More
  • Student Handbook: Student Engagement- Freedom of Expression

    Speech Code Rating: Green
    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies
    Last updated: June 19, 2018

    Demonstrations and dissent are necessary and acceptable forms of expression. Generally, picketing, distributing literature, silent or symbolic protests (e.g., holding signs, wearing certain clothing, standing, etc.), or short and spontaneous verbal reactions to a speaker are acceptable forms of protest and dissent, ... Read More
  • Student Handbook: Student Engagement- Freedom of Expression

    Speech Code Rating: Green
    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: June 19, 2018

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

    Speech Code Rating: Green
    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: June 19, 2018

    Vanderbilt University expects students to refrain from conduct that threatens, intimidates, harasses, or otherwise 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 netw... Read More

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


Non-Sexual Misconduct

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

Sexual Misconduct

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

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • ‘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… Read more

  • 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.

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • ‘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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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,… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • ‘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… Read more

  • 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…. Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more

  • 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… Read more