FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for February 2008: the University of Utah. This public university’s Department of Housing & Residential Education maintains the following policy regarding posting flyers and other materials in the residence halls:
Housing & Residential Education will not approve any information that is deemed to be racist, sexist, indecent, scandalous, illegal, inciting, advertise alcohol or illegal substances, or in any way oppressive in nature.
Here at FIRE, we often remark about the fact that while college campuses are quite libertine in some ways (take Yale’s “Sex Week,” for example), university policies regulating student speech and conduct are frequently downright Victorian, requiring things like “civility” and prohibiting things like “rudeness.” Utah’s policy—prohibiting the posting of any information “deemed scandalous”—is perhaps the perfect example of such a regulation. (The dictionary definition of scandalous is “giving offense to moral sensibilities and injurious to reputation.”)
The Victorian-era language is not the only problem with this policy, of course—it also restricts numerous other kinds of constitutionally protected expression, such as anything “racist,” “sexist,” or “oppressive,” and gives the department of residence life seemingly unfettered discretion to define those terms. As a public university, the University of Utah is bound to uphold its students’ First Amendment rights, and this policy utterly fails to do so. For these reasons, the University of Utah is our February 2008 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.