As Torch readers know, each month FIRE singles out a particularly reprehensible speech code for our Speech Code of the Month award. While all 12 Speech Codes of the Month in 2010 flagrantly violated students’ right to free expression, one—the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s policy on “Rallies”—was so egregious that it deserves special mention as 2010’s Speech Code of the Year.
UMass Amherst’s policy on “Rallies” has special regulations applicable to what it calls “controversial rallies”—and it leaves “controversial” wholly undefined, giving the administration unfettered discretion to invoke the policy when it sees fit. If a rally is deemed controversial, it may only take place between noon and 1 p.m. on the Student Union steps, and must be registered at least five days in advance. That’s just one hour a day on one tiny area of a campus of more than 27,000 students! Worse yet, the policy also requires that when holding a controversial rally, “The sponsoring RSO [Registered Student Organization] must designate at least 6 members to act as a security team.” In other words, student groups wishing to publicly express a controversial opinion on campus must give at least five days notice, may only do it on one small area of campus for one hour a day, and must be willing to put themselves in harm’s way by acting as their own security in order to do so. Speech codes just don’t get much more ridiculous than this one.
Since FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month became a regular feature in June 2005, 27 universities—40 percent of the selected schools—have fully revised the policies that earned them the dubious distinction. It is our hope that in 2011, more universities will make the changes necessary to give their students the freedom they deserve. Happy holidays, and look for 2011’s first Speech Code of the Month in January!