FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for November 2006: University of Maine – Presque Isle.
The University of Maine – Presque Isle’s (UMPI’s) Residence Hall Guide contains a harassment policy that states: “Even if the harassment is unintentional (e.g., an off-hand comment or joke) it still occurs and will not be tolerated.”
As a public university, UMPI cannot prohibit speech that is protected by the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has defined what schools may legitimately prohibit as harassment: conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.” By definition, then, an unintentional, off-hand comment or joke cannot be harassment, making this policy legally untenable. This policy is also completely ridiculous. How can a college prepare its students for the real world if it shields them from even the most mild offense? Society is full of people with different personalities and different viewpoints, and being offended is a part of everyday life. It is a disservice to lead young adults to believe they can breeze through life free from offense, because that simply does not reflect reality.
For this reason, UMPI is November’s Speech Code of the Month. If you believe that your college or university 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.