Campus Speech Codes Decline, But Federal Government Threatens to Impose Censorship Codes at 100% of Colleges


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.

There are 7 comments.

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  1. Eeyore Member


    Is there a reason, other than resources, that FIRE only has a referral Legal Network, as opposed to having a legal division which shepherds particularly clear cases up the court ladder?

    • #1
  2. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff

    Actually, we officially launched a big litigation project on July 1: It could easily be 2 or 3x as big but we’ve already launched 7 lawsuits and favorably settled 3 of those.  Check our 2 latest wins: But again, with more resources we could do a lot more.

    • #2
  3. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Hillsdale College, Hillsdale College, Hillsdale College.  No federal dollars, no speech code.

    • #3
  4. BuckeyeSam Inactive

    Lukianoff is a warrior. He and FIRE have been getting some exposure on Ricochet–posts, maybe a podcast appearance on (I think) Need to Know. Nevertheless, he needs to be a regular poster and a regular guest on several of the podcasts where it would make sense–Need to Know, the flagship, maybe Law Talk, GLoP Culture, Hinderaker-Ward Experience, and the Powerline.

    If you don’t have kids in college, you really aren’t tuned in to these problems. And if you do have kids in college, I think the tendency is to not make waves, assume it’s par for the course and something to endure for four years. FIRE seems to be one of the few groups figuratively and rightly trying to fight back leftist bastards who are ruling and ruining college campuses. To me, these campus leftists are nothing but bullies who deserve to be figuratively punched in the mouth. And from my distant seat, FIRE is sticking it to these leftists and exposing them for what they are.

    • #4
  5. iDad Inactive

    RushBabe49:Hillsdale College, Hillsdale College, Hillsdale College. No federal dollars, no speech code.


    • #5
  6. user_64581 Member

    program which aims universities into reforming their codes.

    Using speech recognition software?

    • #6
  7. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff

    R. Craigen:Using speech recognition software?

    Sure am (been using it since 2007)! But I did re-read this. Ack, sorry I missed that.  Will fix.

    • #7
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