Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
The Wall Street Journal penned a great staff editorial about my organization’s (FIRE’s) 2015 speech code report, which was just officially released today. There is some good news in the report, as the Journal reports:
55% of the 437 colleges it surveyed this year maintain “severely restrictive” policies that “clearly and substantially prohibit protected speech.” They include 61 private schools and 180 public colleges. Incredibly, this represents progress from Fire’s survey seven years ago when 75% of colleges maintained restrictive free speech codes.
This 20% drop has been hard-won and hard-fought, and the result of dozens of lawsuits by FIRE, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the ACLU, and others, not to mention FIRE’s very successful “speech code of the month” program which shames universities into reforming their codes.
Still, of course, 55% of colleges (54% of which are public colleges bound by the First Amendment) maintaining codes that severely restrict the free-speech rights of students and faculty is far too many.
And there’s another reason not to be overly confident that this progress will continue.
This past year we began to see that campuses around the country were starting to adopt the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education’s definition of harassment from its infamous 2013 “blueprint” letter. That definition is startlingly broad and vague, and therefore unconstitutional, but because OCR has the power to eliminate all federal funding to universities that it deems not to have successfully dealt with sexual harassment, universities are adopting it nonetheless.
Simply put, the federal government is threatening to undo all the progress FIRE and others have made towards getting university policies to respect freedom of speech. 54% of public colleges maintaining unconstitutional speech codes may be the best we will ever do unless the Department of Education is brought to heel. If universities follow OCR’s guidance, we run the risk of having a situation in which every single college in the country has a speech code so vague and broad that virtually any faculty member or student could be punished.
Unless this changes, the upcoming year will be a fight just to keep the 2016 FIRE speech code report from having to report “Speech Codes at 100% of U.S. Campuses.” FIRE is up for the fight, as always, but we could use your support and help spreading the word.