University of Oklahoma (OU) President David Boren took a stand for students’ free speech rights after learning that members of the university’s marching band, The Pride of Oklahoma, were forced to agree in writing not to make negative remarks about the group’s leadership.
A group of band members wrote an open letter to Boren (PDF) that was published in several newspapers on Friday, speaking out about the restrictions on their speech and asking Boren to hire a new band director. Students and alumni, the letter said, are embarrassed by the current state of the band and “poor leadership” by its “unqualified director.”
Upon learning that students were being threatened with dismissal from the group for voicing their opinions, Boren immediately and retroactively nullified the agreement that members had been required to sign. In doing so, Boren wrote:
This university is firmly devoted to the right of free speech under the first amendment to the Constitution. … This is a direct order from me as President and should be implemented immediately. Members of the band should be informed that the particular section of the handbook cited and the agreement to abide by it are no longer in force.
FIRE commends President Boren for stepping in to protect the speech rights of members of the band. We would love to see Boren and OU go a step further and work with FIRE to revise the university’s four “yellow light” speech codes—policies that could too easily be used to censor or punish constitutionally protected speech—so that freedom of speech will be fully protected on campus.