FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for May 2006: University of Miami.
The University of Miami’s “Harassment or Harm to Others” policy, found on page 64 of the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, prohibits:
Any words or acts, whether intentional or a product of the disregard for the safety, rights, or welfare of others, which cause or result in physical or emotional harm to others, or which intimidate, degrade, demean, threaten, haze or otherwise interfere with another person’s rightful actions or comfort is prohibited.
This policy appears to prohibit almost anything that hurts anyone’s feelings, including any words that unintentionally interfere with someone’s “rightful comfort,” whatever that is. It is sad that the University of Miami treats its college students—mostly adults—as little children whose feelings need to be protected at the expense of others’ free speech rights. College is supposed to be a place where you step outside of your comfort zone, not a place where you can be punished for expressing controversial opinions simply because they make someone uncomfortable.
This policy directly contradicts university president Donna Shalala’s repeated, publicly stated commitments to freedom of speech. FIRE wrote to the University of Miami in 2003, when the university’s Committee on Student Organizations (COSO) refused to recognize a conservative student group’s application for recognition. Once media scrutiny brought the matter squarely to her attention, President Shalala issued a statement addressing FIRE’s concerns. In that statement, President Shalala said that any policy regarding the approval of student groups must be “consistent with the principles of free speech, academic freedom, and competition.” COSO recognized the conservative student group shortly thereafter. President Shalala reiterated this commitment in a January 18, 2006 statement to the university community, in which she said that “[t]he University of Miami, as an institution dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and charged with the duty of educating young adults from around the world, is committed to supporting the values of free speech, the rights of assembly and free association, and other basic civil liberties.” If President Shalala truly believes that the university’s students are young adults, and that free speech is crucial to the pursuit of knowledge, she should see to it that this noxious policy is repealed immediately.
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.