University of Southern Mississippi earns FIRE’s highest free speech rating

February 19, 2019
  • After policy changes, Southern Miss becomes 47th institution in America to earn FIRE’s highest rating for free speech
  • Mississippi’s three largest universities earn FIRE’s highest rating, while other state institutions maintain policies that restrict First Amendment rights

HATTIESBURG, Miss., Feb. 19, 2019 — The University of Southern Mississippi revised its speech policies to join an elite group of just 47 colleges and universities nationwide that earn the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s highest rating for free speech.

Southern Miss joins Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi in earning FIRE’s “green light” rating, which denotes speech-friendly written policies.

“The Golden Eagles should be proud to earn FIRE’s green light rating — the gold standard for protecting campus free speech,” said FIRE Vice President of Policy Reform Azhar Majeed. “Students and faculty members can breathe easier knowing their First Amendment rights are protected at Southern Miss.”

Roughly 9 in 10 American colleges maintain policies that restrict student or faculty expression, according to FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2019 report. “Yellow light” institutions maintain policies with vague language that could restrict speech, and “red light” institutions — which make up 30 percent of colleges and universities nationwide — maintain policies that clearly and substantially imperil free speech.

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Southern Miss revised six policies, including three red light speech codes, to earn FIRE’s highest rating. Among its policy changes, the university removed restrictions on student protests and demonstrations and clarified that its Creed at Southern Miss is an aspirational rather than mandatory policy, due to conflicts with the First Amendment.

“The University of Southern Mississippi is proud to support freedom of speech on our campuses,” said Southern Miss Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Dee Dee Anderson. “Free speech allows students to hear invited speakers, as well as debate and challenge ideas and thoughts.”

Among other Mississippi schools, Jackson State University earns FIRE’s red light rating, while Alcorn State University and Delta State University both earn FIRE’s yellow light rating. As public institutions, all three impermissibly maintain policies that restrict student constitutional rights.

Public universities like Southern Miss 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 Southern Mississippi