Universities Violate Student Speech Rights
Special Report - December 22, 2008
A recent report found that over 74 percent of American colleges and universities clearly and substantially violate student and faculty First Amendment rights through campus speech codes. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released the report December 15, entitled Spotlight on Speech Codes 2009: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses, after a year of reviewing publicly available speech codes at 364 American colleges and universities. It is the most comprehensive report of its kind that both quantifies the proportion of codes that restrict free speech and assesses the severity of the restrictions.
All in all, private schools, which are not as stringently bound to respect broad free speech rights, were less restrictive, coming in at 67 percent, than public schools, 77 percent of which clearly violate First Amendment rights of students and faculty. Southern schools, collectively, clearly restrict free speech at the lowest rate of 69 percent. However, Southern schools have the highest percentage (28) of codes which risk interpretation that could restrict free speech. A mere 2.2 percent of all universities have no codes that either do restrict or risk interpretation that would restrict constitutionally protected speech.
In North Carolina, 17 campuses have speech codes that were found to either “clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech” or risk interpretation that would “suppress protected speech.” The most severe violations of free speech in North Carolina schools were in codes adopted by Appalachian State University, Davidson College, Eastern Carolina University, NC Central University, NC School of the Arts, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Greensboro, Wake Forest, and Winston Salem State University. Schools that have adopted speech codes that risk being interpreted to violate free speech rights include Duke University, Fayetteville State University, NC A&T State University, NC State University, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Pembroke, and UNC-Wilmington. None of the schools evaluated in North Carolina acceptably respected the First Amendment rights of members of their campus community.
“Unfortunately, this year’s report demonstrates thatdespite decades of precedent declaring speech codes unlawful and two decision this year alonethe majority of college and universities brazenly maintain policies that violate students’ and faculty members’ fundamental rights,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “Everyone who values the free exchange of ideas should be deeply disturbed by these findings.”
Also, on December 17, a UNC panel met to discuss the development of a system-wide policy and possible diversity training requirement for all UNC campuses and students. The UNC Study Commission to Review Student Codes of Conduct as They Relate to Hate Crimes was formed by UNC system president, Erskine Bowles in response to racially-charged graffiti legally painted in the NC State University “Free Expression” tunnel after the election of Barack Obama as president. Hugh Stevens, a Raleigh attorney who specializes in First Amendment cases, told the panel that despite the embarrassment of the graffiti, the students were “protected by the First Amendment.” The panel will hold a public forum on January 15, 2009. They are supposed to complete their recommendations by March 31.
Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, commenting on the FIRE story said: “FIRE has done everyone a service by providing this kind of information to universities and constituents. In this day of increasing political correctness, many college students, especially those who hold traditional views of family, faith and freedom, find an increasingly hostile environment on many university campuses. The FIRE report should be taken into consideration by the UNC System Hate Crimes Study Commission.”
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.