This year, FIRE has made progress in helping to reduce the number of red-light colleges and universities, with a total of 28 institutions improving from red-light to yellow-light status, and one university, the University of Virginia (UVa), making the huge step from a red-light to a green-light institution. This means that, at UVa, FIRE is unaware of any policies that threaten students’ free speech rights on that campus.
In October, UVa eliminated all of its speech codes, earning FIRE’s coveted green-light rating. It is important to stress UVa’s path to becoming a green-light school, as it might serve as an inspiration for other institutions. In April 2010, FIRE’s Adam Kissel gave a lecture on free speech that was hosted by UVa student groups Students for Individual Liberty and Liberty Coalition. FIRE went on to detail objections to UVa’s speech codes at the time in a letter to Dean of Students Allen W. Groves on April 7. UVa student Virginia Robinson, a 2010 FIRE summer intern, also helped persuade UVa to reform its speech codes.
Once UVa removed all of its speech codes, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff praised the university for its improvements. As he said in FIRE’s press release:
President Teresa Sullivan and her staff should be commended for making these simple but important changes to guarantee the First Amendment rights of students and faculty members at the University of Virginia. Within three months of taking office, President Sullivan has overseen the transformation of UVa from a school that earned FIRE’s worst ‘red light’ rating for restricting protected speech to our highest ‘green light’ rating. We hope that more institutions will follow UVa’s sterling example and reform their codes to protect free speech.
UVa is just one great example from this year of how institutions can work to improve the conditions for free speech on their campuses. Hopefully many more institutions will decide to take similar initiatives over the coming year. When scrolling through FIRE’s "Spotlight" database, it is shocking to see so many institutions with red- and yellow-light rankings, but what really sticks out are the 13 green-light schools. Green-light institutions, such as Carnegie Mellon University and The College of William and Mary, continue to gain recognition for their protection of free speech. Furthermore, with many yellow-light institutions, such as Arizona State University, on the verge of earning a green-light rating, FIRE hopes that they will take that extra effort and initiative in the coming year to make the big switch.
FIRE can use your support to continue its battle against speech codes that infringe upon students’ free speech rights. If you are a student at a red- or yellow-light school, join the Campus Freedom Network and obtain the resources you need to make an impact. Also, make your holiday donation to FIRE! Only with support and encouragement from people like you can we continue to fight to protect the free speech rights of students across the country.
With this year’s improvements in mind, FIRE is hopeful that in the coming year we will see even more initiative from students, alumni, staff, faculty, and the public in order to continue to protect freedom of speech on our country’s college campuses.