An outrageous number of colleges and universities severely restrict their students’ expressive rights—so many that researching and analyzing these restrictions is my full-time job. As 2005 draws to a close, I would like to highlight just a few of the particularly outrageous (but, sadly, quite common) restrictions that I found in the course of my research this year. These institutions should be ashamed of themselves.
- Stevens Institute of Technology provides students with a laundry list of behaviors that constitute sexual harassment, including “sexist jokes,” “comments regarding a person’s attire,” “displaying or discussing materials pertaining to males or females in a demeaning manner,” and “propositions.”
- North Carolina Central University prohibits “public profanity.” Perhaps they are unaware that the U.S. Supreme Court declared that unconstitutional in 1971.
- Indiana University of Pennsylvania prohibits “behavior that demonstrates intolerance” to individuals based on gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, and religious beliefs or practices. Prohibited conduct at IUP includes “demeaning jokes.”
- University of Nevada, Reno prohibits “offensive language.”
- Northern Arizona University bans “negative comments.” I won’t comment on what I think of that policy; it might not be allowed.
Although these policies are so ridiculous they might make you laugh, they are serious business for students at these universities. Fortunately, many universities are unwilling to defend in public what they do in private, so exposing these speech codes to the public is an effective tool for change. For example, as FIRE announced in a press release today, Albertson College of Idaho revised its formerly repressive speech code after being featured as FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month in July 2005. As we begin a new year, FIRE will keep working hard to expose these unconscionable restrictions to public scrutiny. Happy New Year, and look for 2006’s first Speech Code of the Month next week!