University of Arizona earns FIRE’s highest rating for free speech

February 6, 2019

TUCSON, Ariz., Feb. 6, 2019 — The oldest university in Arizona has brought all of its speech policies in line with the First Amendment, earning the highest speech code rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The University of Arizona is the second institution in the state of Arizona to earn the “green light” rating, which is held by only 45 other institutions around the country. Arizona State earned the rating in 2011.

“We’re proud to see faculty members and the administration work together to protect the speech rights of the University of Arizona community,” said FIRE’s Laura Beltz, policy reform senior program officer. “The university joins a small but growing group of universities that have committed to respect the speech rights of students and faculty members.”

In May 2018, UA professor Todd Proebsting asked his university to consider addressing the policies that had earned it FIRE’s “yellow light” rating. Policies with this rating restrict a limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression. The Office of Institutional Equity responded by revising an unclear harassment policy on its website. In August, Deputy General Counsel Art Lee revised the last yellow light speech code, earning the university an overall green light rating. FIRE’s highest rating indicates that a university’s written policies do not seriously imperil or restrict free speech.

“Free speech is essential in sustaining a democratic society, and it is equally important in providing an exceptional university education. Fundamental to our mission is ensuring that all of our students and faculty practice and promote principles of freedom of expression,” Arizona President Robert C. Robbins said. “I want to thank FIRE for their recognition of the work we do every day to encourage free expression.”

Relatedly, the UA Faculty Senate voted in December to adopt the Chicago Statement. To date, 56 colleges or faculty bodies have adopted the statement, which FIRE calls the “gold standard for campus free speech policy statements.”

FIND OUT HOW MUCH FREE SPEECH YOUR ALMA MATER RESTRICTS

According to FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2019 report, only 10 percent of top institutions in the country earn a green light rating. Almost 30 percent earn an overall “red light” rating for maintaining policies that both clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech.

Public universities like UA are legally bound by the First Amendment, while private institutions are bound by promises of free speech found in their official policies. To learn more about the state of free speech on college campuses, see FIRE’s Spotlight database.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.

CONTACT:

Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org

 


Schools:  University of Arizona