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Today my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), released our annual “Spotlight on Speech Codes” report, a rundown of the speech policies at 449 of America’s largest and most prestigious colleges and universities. The report contains both good and bad news about the state of free speech on campus.
Fire’s 10th annual report surveyed speech policies at 345 four-year public colleges and 104 private schools. The good news is that the share of colleges with “red-light” speech codes that substantially bar constitutionally protected speech has declined to 39.6%, a nearly 10% drop in the last year and the lowest share since 2008. Over the last nine years the number of institutions that don’t seriously threaten speech has tripled to 27. Several colleges including the University of Wisconsin have adopted policies that affirm (at least in theory) their commitment to free speech.
Unfortunately, however, it isn’t all good news. For example, about 40 percent of the schools FIRE surveyed had a “bias reporting team” tasked with investigating incidents of verbal bias:
Even as some colleges drop speech codes to avoid legal challenges, many have established “bias” reporting systems that solicit complaints about offensive speech. As Fire explains, these systems encourage “students to report on one another—and on faculty members—whenever they subjectively perceive that someone’s speech or expression is biased.”