FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for June 2007: Le Moyne College in New York.
Le Moyne College claims to value academic freedom, prominently stating in its Student Handbook that “Le Moyne shares the ideals of academic freedom found in American institutions of higher education.” But Le Moyne maintains a policy that dangerously undermines academic freedom by threatening students with dismissal for making “Stigmatizing or disparaging statements related to race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious preference, age or people with disabilities.”
To “disparage” means “to express a negative opinion of,” and to “stigmatize” means “to accuse or condemn or openly or formally or brand as disgraceful.” It is easy to see how this broad prohibition might affect discussion on a number of serious topics: under this policy, would you feel comfortable expressing your opposition to affirmative action, illegal immigration, gay marriage, evangelical Christianity, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or any number of other hot-button issues? Given that Le Moyne explicitly states that students who stigmatize or disparage “shall be subject to the maximum penalty of suspension or dismissal from the College,” I certainly would not.
It is simply unconscionable for a college that promises free speech and academic freedom to maintain policies that chill speech on important issues. And lest you think these concerns are merely hypothetical, remember that in January 2005, Le Moyne administrators summarily dismissed graduate student Scott McConnell because he had expressed views that opposed “multicultural education” and had stated in an academic assignment that “corporal punishment has a place in the classroom.” In January 2006, a New York appeals court determined that Le Moyne had wrongfully removed him from the college, and McConnell finally graduated this spring.
For these reasons, Le Moyne College is our June 2007 Speech Code of the Month. If you believe that your college or university 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.