Tag Archives | University of Delaware

The Reality of College Censorship, Part 2: Speech Codes

While the public seems to fondly believe that speech codes are a thing of the past — a bygone product of the “political correctness” movement of the 1980s and 1990s — they are alive and well on the modern college campus. As I explain in Unlearning Liberty, these days, you’re unlikely to open up a student handbook and find a section labeled “Speech Code.” Instead, these codes are woven into other policies regarding student conduct, particularly those that prohibit “harassment” and “incivility.” What hasn’t changed about these speech codes, however, is how ludicrous they often are.

In the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education‘s (FIRE’s) most recent annual report on campus speech codes, we found that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the 392 colleges and universities we surveyed across the country maintained speech codes that clearly fail to meet First Amendment standards (which FIRE labels as “red light” policies). See Spotlight on Speech Codes 2012: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses for our analysis. Moreover, even though public schools are legally required to uphold students’ First Amendment rights, these institutions were no more likely than private schools to have policies that met constitutional standards; 65 percent of both public and private universities surveyed received a “red light” rating.

This is actually an improvement from past years. In fact, the percentage of overall “red light” schools has now dropped for four straight years, from 75 percent in 2009, to 71 percent in 2010, to 67 percent in 2011, to 65 percent today. Additionally, the number of institutions that do not maintain any published policy restrictions on student free speech (which we call “green light” schools) has nearly doubled over that time, from 8 to 15. Nonetheless, the fact that such a high proportion of surveyed colleges […]

Continue Reading 0

The Reality of College Censorship, Part 1: Censorpalooza

As those of you who read my blog yesterday know, Eugene invited me to be a guest contributor to The Volokh Conspiracy this week in order to discuss some of the issues raised in my recently released book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.

Yesterday, I described the negative impact that suppressing speech on campus has on our greater society. I also promised to give some shocking examples of censorship. So before we get into the legal issues that these cases raise, let’s take a moment to examine the state of free speech on campus.

Over the last decade, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) has fought against so many acts of censorship that we decided to put together a short video that highlights some of our most egregious and bizarre cases:

The video features:

  • Hayden Barnes, a student from Valdosta State University who was expelled for peacefully protesting the proposed construction of a parking garage.
  • Keith John Sampson, a student in Indiana found guilty of racial harassment for publicly reading a book.
  • The University of Delaware, a public college that developed a program of thought reform to serve as a “treatment” for students’ incorrect attitudes and beliefs.
  • Andre Massena, a student at Binghamton University (formerly SUNY-Binghamton) who faced suspension or expulsion for challenging the Department of Social Work.
  • KC Johnson, a professor at Brooklyn College and author of a book about the Duke Lacrosse case who was threatened with a possible investigation after publicly criticizing the School of Education for what he perceived to be indoctrination and viewpoint discrimination by members of the faculty.

These cases are just a few in the long list of rights violations that FIRE has battled. Last year, FIRE began drawing attention to this […]

Continue Reading 0

Free Speech on Campus & ‘Unlearning Liberty’

Thank you to Eugene for inviting me to guest blog on The Volokh Conspiracy this week. By way of introduction, I am a First Amendment lawyer and the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and my new book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, hit the bookshelves just last week.

As some readers know, Eugene has taken a special interest in campus censorship. He has frequently highlighted FIRE’s work on this blog and was a keynote speaker at our 10th Anniversary Dinner. We have also worked together on a couple of cases, including State v. Drahota and Snyder v. Phelps.

This week, I will be writing about the reality of campus censorship, the prevalence of campus speech codes, and numerous shocking stories that show how even relatively tame and uncontroversial speech is targeted. Look for my next post to see some remarkable cases of campus censorship.

But I will also be going beyond the laundry list of horror stories and discussing the many ways in which campus censorship harms us all. As I discuss in my book, I believe that it damages our greater society in two distinct ways.

The first and most dangerous harm is that speech codes and ridiculous “free speech zones” make students far too comfortable with restrictions on their freedom of speech. In a recent case at the University of Cincinnati, for example, libertarian students were restricted to only 0.1 percent of campus when they wished to collect signatures for a ballot initiative, and were threatened with police action if they strayed outside those boundaries. Further, I argue that frankly creepy indoctrination programs like the one run out of the University of Delaware teach students that censorship of “wrong” opinions is what good and educated […]

Continue Reading 0