62 percent of colleges restrict free speech, says new report

Campus Reform Reporter
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More than sixty percent of major American universities and colleges have policies that violate students’ constitutional right to free speech, a study published by a higher education watchdog group has revealed.

More than sixty percent of the 409 colleges FIRE reviewed have policies that hinder a student's right to free speech.

The report, published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), revealed that 62 percent of the 409 colleges reviewed have written policies in place to limit a student’s right to free speech.

That number, however, represents a major improvement over the last half-decade.  A similar study also conducted by FIRE in 2008 found that seventy-five percent of American colleges had policies that restricted free speech on campus.

According to Samantha Harris, Director of Speech Code Research at FIRE, some of the most common policies that hinder free speech on college campuses include “free speech zones.”

FIRE alleges such zones limit free speech because they require students to acquire permission for their activities from school officials beforehand, which can potentially lead to discrimination.

Harris also expressed concerns about other policies universities frequently adopt.

“The harassment policy is also a frequent trouble spot...many policies go far beyond the legal definition of harassment and prohibit what is actually protected expression,” Harris explained.

The thirteen percent decline is the result of the campus network built by activist organizations, a number of lawsuits, and a rising awareness of constitutional rights, Azhar Majeed, who is the Associate Director of Legal and Public Advocacy for FIRE told Campus Reform last week.

“We have a good working relationship with a lot of university administrators and general councils and we’ve used that to get the ball rolling and spawn some of this policy revision process,” said Majeed.

“There has been a slightly increased awareness of what the law requires in terms of respecting students’ free speech rights.”

The report noted that restrictions have been weakening as several universities, such as the University of Mississippi, have dropped speech codes altogether.

Majeed, however, told Campus Reform that 62 percent is still too high.

“We obviously still think that that’s too many schools out there that are not living up to their First Amendment obligations or their free speech promises.”

Follow the author of this article on twitter: @ScottMGreer

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