FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for July 2015: Florida State University (FSU).
FSU’s Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Statement provides that “[b]ehavior that may be considered offensive, demeaning, or degrading to persons or groups will not be tolerated.” This language is so broad that you could drive a truck through it, leaving the university with unfettered discretion to punish virtually any speech or expression it finds undesirable. Seeming to realize just that, the policy explicitly makes the university’s complaint procedures “available to all who believe their experience on any of our campuses has been less than appropriate.”
At this point, I have quoted court cases upholding the right to engage in offensive speech so many times that I feel like a broken record, so suffice it to say that the Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly made absolutely clear that speech cannot be prohibited or punished simply because another person finds it offensive—which is exactly what this policy does.
And as you may have noticed, students are a bit easily offended these days. From the tenured professor fired, in part, for saying “fuck no,” to the student who requested (and was nearly granted) a trigger warning for several classic graphic novels assigned in a course about graphic novels, to the visiting professor whose provocative anti-racist artwork was removed after students found it too provocative, FIRE’s recent case archives are rife with examples of offended students demanding censorship.
Under any circumstances, this policy is unconstitutional at a public university like FSU. But in the current climate, it is undeniably censorship waiting to happen.
For this reason, FSU’s Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Statement is our July 2015 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, join the FIRE Student Network, an organization of college faculty members and students dedicated to advancing individual liberties on their campuses.