FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for November 2011: Colorado College.
Colorado College’s Student Code of Conduct contains a policy on “Respect” that prohibits “any act which endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student or group, or which destroys or removes public or private property, or which produces ridicule, embarrassment, harassment, intimidation or other such result.” (Emphasis added.)
Got that? Embarrassing or ridiculing a fellow student is prohibited at Colorado College. This bans a wide range of speech, including the kind of harsh satire and parody that is often a powerfully effective form of social commentary. Would anyone watch The Daily Show, for example, if Jon Stewart were not allowed to lampoon the objects of his criticism?
Although Colorado College is a private institution, its policies provide that “all members of the college community have such basic rights as freedom of speech ….” College policy also states that “[o]n a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed.” And yet the “Respect” policy does just that, banning any message that produces ridicule or embarrassment (or any “other such result,” a terribly vague proscription that leaves students in the position of having to guess at what is prohibited) in another student. Making matters worse, the policy conditions the permissibility of speech entirely on the reaction of the listener (any act “which produces” ridicule or embarrassment is prohibited, regardless of whether such a reaction is reasonable), leaving students’ free speech rights at the mercy of the most sensitive members of the community.
Despite its lofty statements about the importance of free speech on campus, Colorado College prohibits students from engaging in forms of expression that are at the very heart of what its policies should protect. For this reason, it is our November 2011 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 email@example.com 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 FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network, an organization of college faculty members and students dedicated to advancing individual liberties on their campuses. You also can add FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month Widget to your blog or website and help shed some much-needed sunlight on these repressive policies.