Free speech advocate blasts Syracuse University's ‘PC campus culture’

Nicole Neilly of Speech First called out Syracuse University in a recent letter to its chancellor, for its lack of "action" to "match its commitments" to free speech on campus

While conservative students at SU have received multiple death threats with no action taken by the admin, Nicole Neilly insists that the school’s "talk" of supporting free speech "only applies to students they agree with."

As conservative students on campus continue to allege free speech violations across the country, Syracuse University is under fire for new policies that Nicole Neily, President of Speech First, calls “extremely vague.” 

This criticism comes in light of a new SU policy that prohibits, “assistance, participation in, promotion of, or perpetuation of conduct, whether physical, electronic, oral, written or video, which threatens the mental health, physical health, or safety of anyone.”

Campus Reform sat down with Neily as she expounded on the issue, saying, “it’s unclear how Syracuse will define ‘promotion of conduct- maybe a retweet or share on social media? What about ’perpetuation of’ conduct? Would refraining from jumping into a heated brawl make someone an accomplice?”  

Neily called out Syracuse, referencing two students in particular who have “received death threats on their social media pages from fellow students because of their political views,” the university’s inaction in response to those incidents. 

[RELATED: Free speech org petitions Syracuse University over ‘bystander’ policy]

“They received no help or support from the administration after countless pleas for the university to take action,” Neily said. She then compared these incidents to students at SU who shut down traffic during a protest and produced a list of demands to the school. 

Neily said that “it seems that all their talk about supporting ‘the freedom of discussion’ only applies to the students they agree with.”

After creating a petition, titled, “Tell Syracuse University that Dissent is Part of Democracy,” which has garnered more than 2,300 signatures, Neily sent a letter to Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud, urging him to “reform your policies to better  protect student speech on your campus,” reminding him that “college campuses should be a marketplace of ideas where a wide swath of  views can be heard by all.”

In the petition, Speech First stated, “now you can be shamed, and potentially punished, for choosing not to engage in PC campus culture.” 

She pointed to three specific policies with which she takes issue.

“First, Syracuse’s Student Code of Conduct threatens students (including mere  bystanders) with discipline based on subjective and vague terms such as ‘hate speech,’  ’harassment,’ and ‘[b]ias-related’ incidents. Second, Syracuse’s ‘STOP Bias’ and  Residential Bias Prevention policies impose content-based restrictions on a wide swath of speech. Third, the University’s Events Policy imposes a significant burden on the ability of students to organize events, particularly those with controversial speakers.”

In the letter, Neily said that though Syracuse purports to value free speech, “its actions do  not match its commitments.” Neily called it a “bait and switch,” alleging that Syracuse is “lying to[its] customers.” 

[RELATED: Syracuse University professors cancel midterms because students are stressed]

“This gives administrators broad discretionary power to determine... ‘What is a biased incident? ‘What is harassment? Who’s interpreting those terms?” Neily said. “Syracuse claims to believe in, support and uphold principles of free speech and expression. And to me, policies like this show that they don’t.” 

Neily explained to Campus Reform the University’s “STOP Bias” and Residential Bias Prevention program, which she says is teaching students to pass on its problems to “grown ups” rather than address them interpersonally.

“I think any school that has a program where you are encouraging students to… tattle tell on each other, even if you’re doing it with the best of intentions, where you want to create a sense of community if students are being encouraged to report each other anonymously through an online portal, I think, you know, more than anything, I think that undermines a sense of community.”

Expounding on the death threats received by two conservative students, Neily said that “Syracuse’s inaction, to me, speaks volumes.” 

“More than anywhere else in the country, [college campus] is where students should be able to debate/discuss hot political issues... It is so expensive right now -- $50, 60, 70,000 a year to recite talking points and keep your mouth shut? It’s unacceptable.” 

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