FIRE announces our Speech Code of the Month for July 2017: College of the Holy Cross. This is Holy Cross’ second time earning the Speech Code of the Month distinction; the last time was seven years ago this month, in July 2010, for a ban on “causing emotional injury” that persists to this day.
Today, however, we focus our attention on the college’s “Use of Information Technology Services” policy, which provides that:
Communications from members of the College community are to reflect mutual respect and civility. Obscene or intolerant language, as well as offensive images, clearly violate these standards and are considered inappropriate for electronic and all other forms of discourse among members of the College community. The determination of what is obscene, offensive or intolerant is within the sole discretion of the College.
Potential penalties include not only loss of computer privileges, but disciplinary action up to and including “dismissal from the college.”
Got that? If you send any electronic communication that Holy Cross, in its “sole discretion,” deems offensive or intolerant, you face potential expulsion. Given the wide range of things that are considered offensive or intolerant on college campuses these days, expressing any kind of controversial or unpopular opinion online is risky business at Holy Cross.
Now, Holy Cross is private, which means it isn’t legally bound by the First Amendment the way public universities are. But like many private schools that want to attract the most talented students and faculty, Holy Cross claims to be committed to the “free exchange of ideas and expression,” and explicitly affords its students “the right to express opinion.” But there are many opinions — on topics like immigration, gay and transgender rights, race relations, and so forth — that are widely perceived, particularly on college campuses, as intolerant. So how can Holy Cross square its commitment to the free expression of opinion with a blanket ban on offensive and intolerant communications?
It can’t. And for this reason, College of the Holy Cross is our July 2017 Speech Code of the Month. If you believe that your college’s or university’s policy should be a Speech Code of the Month, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to the policy and a brief description of why you think attention should be drawn to this code. If you are a current college student or faculty member interested in free speech, consider joining the FIRE Student Network, a coalition of college faculty members and students dedicated to advancing individual liberties on their campuses.
If you’re a current or former student, faculty, or alumni of College of the Holy Cross, sign the petition below asking them to revise this policy today!