FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for July 2010: College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Although it is a private college, Holy Cross claims to value free expression. The Protest and Demonstration Guidelines state that “The College recognizes that the free exchange of ideas and expression may produce conflicts in beliefs and proposals for action. This exchange is an important element in the pursuit of knowledge.” The Community Standards provide that “All student members of the College of the Holy Cross community have certain rights. These include: …The right to express opinion, which includes the right to state agreement or disagreement with the opinions of others and the right to an appropriate forum for the expression of opinion.”
In contradiction to these claims, Holy Cross’ policies severely restrict student expression. The worst offender—and thus, our July 2010 Speech Code of the Month—is the prohibition on “emotional abuse” in the Student Code of Conduct. That policy prohibits “unintentionally causing emotional injury through careless or reckless behavior.” This prohibition is so vague and so subjective that almost any speech or expression could run afoul of it, giving Holy Cross administrators virtually unlimited discretion to punish speech that anyone finds offensive. “Emotional injury” is completely undefined and could mean anything from severe emotional distress to hurt feelings; add to that the fact that one does not even need to intend to inflict emotional injury to violate the policy, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Indeed, Holy Cross’ own policies seem to recognize that free expression necessarily entails some friction; the Protest and Demonstration Guidelines quoted above mention the “conflicts in beliefs” that are a natural outgrowth of freedom. But by threatening punishment for unintentional emotional injury, Holy Cross is essentially saying this friction is unacceptable, that people’s feelings are more important than their right to express themselves freely on controversial matters.
For this reason, the College of the Holy Cross is our July 2010 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 e-mail 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 these issues, consider joining FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network, a loose affiliation of college faculty members and students dedicated to advancing individual liberties on their campuses. And if you would like to help fight abuses at universities nationwide, add FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month Widget to your blog, website, or Facebook profile and help shed some much-needed sunlight on these repressive policies.