FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for November 2012: Norfolk State University in Virginia.
Norfolk State, a public university in Virginia, maintains an Acceptable Use of Technological Resources policy (PDF) that unlawfully restricts protected expression in a number of different ways. The policy defines “technological resources” quite broadly to include “information systems; computer hardware and software; network and telecommunications systems and services; and Internet access.”
The policy contains an extensive list of “prohibited activities” for users of the university’s technological resources, including using those resources “to further personal views” or “religious or political causes.” It also prohibits downloading or transmitting “inappropriate messages or images,” without defining “inappropriate.” As an initial matter, this policy prohibits—on the basis of content and viewpoint—a tremendous amount of constitutionally protected expression. Furthermore, it is so broad that there is simply no way it can be enforced across the board, opening the door to double standards and administrative abuse. To enforce this policy as written, the university would have to monitor the content of every student email, every Facebook status update, and every tweet posted from an on-campus computer or via the institution’s wi-fi network to ensure that the messages contain no personal views, political or religious expression, or “inappropriate” material. Obviously, this is an impossible task.
When it comes to the web, the policy explicitly provides that “the University does try to eliminate access to offensive websites.” How does the university decide what websites are too “offensive” for its adult college students to access? Might the administration decide that certain controversial opinions are too “offensive” for Norfolk State students to be permitted to encounter? With this breathtakingly broad policy, the university administration has impermissibly given itself total discretion to decide what constitutionally protected expression its students may and may not access on campus.
For these reasons, this policy is our November 2012 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 supporting free speech on campus, 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.