New Report: Majority of Campuses Severely Restrict Free Speech

Katie Pavlich

1/20/2014 9:07:00 AM - Katie Pavlich

And that's an improvement. According to a new report released by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-profit educational organization, 59 percent of campuses around the country severely restrict free speech. These campuses maintain restrictions on students through speech codes and other policies. Here are the main findings from the report:

59% (58.6%) of the 427 schools surveyed have speech codes that clearly and substantially restrict protected speech. (FIRE labels these “red light” schools.) Another 35.6% have “yellow light” policies that overregulate speech on campus.

This represents a nearly 17% decline in red light schools from six years ago, when policies at 75% of schools seriously restricted student speech.

The percentage of red light public schools, which are legally bound by the First Amendment, continued to drop, from 61.6% last year to 57.6% this year.

The percentage of red light private schools (which promise free speech but do not deliver it) also fell, from 63.4% last year to 61.5% this year.

In more good news, Eastern Kentucky University eliminated all of its speech codes this year, earning FIRE’s highest, “green light,” rating.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has called America's colleges and universities 'vital centers for the Nation's intellectual life.' However, the reality today is that many of these institutions severely restrict free speech and open debate. Speech coeds -- policies prohibiting speech that would, outside the bounds of campus, be protected by the First Amendment -- have been repeatedly struck down by federal and state courts for decades," the executive summary of the report states. "Yet they persist, even in the very jurisdictions where they have been ruled unconstitutional."

Although the speech police on campus still exist, FIRE is hopeful moving forward as some campuses come to their senses to either pull back on speech restrictions or to eliminate them altogether.

“We are heartened to see another drop in the percentage of campuses maintaining restrictive speech codes,” FIRE’s Director of Policy Research Samantha Harris said in a statement. “There is much more work to be done, however, particularly in light of the confusing messages coming from the federal government about the relationship between harassment and free speech. For starters, the Department of Education needs to make clear to universities, once and for all, that prohibiting harassment does not mean restricting protected speech.”