This speech code prohibits 'unwelcome and/or discriminatory words'

The University of Miami's Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook contains broad definitions of what counts as ‘harm’ and ‘harassment’ when it comes to speech.

Punishable ‘bias’ can occur 'whether the act is intentional or unintentional.'

The University of Miami’s (UM) Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook contains broad definitions of what counts as ‘harm’ and ‘harassment’ when it comes to speech.

According to the Florida school’s policy, “[u]nwelcomed and/or discriminatory words or acts, whether intentional or a product of the disregard for the safety, rights, or welfare of others, which intimidate, degrade, demean, threaten, bully, haze or otherwise interfere with another person’s daily activity” all count as harm/harassment. 

Other forms of prohibited speech include “words or acts considered as a bias incident,” which UM defines elsewhere as “an action, behavior or expression against an individual’s or group’s actual or perceived identity.”

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Punishable ‘bias,’ according to UM policy, can occur “whether the act is intentional or unintentional.”

Intentional bias incidents may result in disciplinary action, while unintentional bias incidents will be resolved through “an educational approach…where possible.”

One example provided by the university of prohibited expression is “[n]ot allowing a volunteer to participate in your protest, because he is a self-described ‘gay activist’.”  

UM’s strict speech policy earned the university a Red speech code rating by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). The rating indicates “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

In a statement made to Campus ReformFIRE’s Director of Policy Reform, Laura Beltz, explained that UM restricts “speech that is protected under First Amendment standards.” 

Specifically, UM’s definition of ‘harassment’ is “far broader than the Supreme Court’s standard for peer hostile environment harassment, as it makes any ‘unwelcomed’ speech that is subjectively degrading or demeaning punishable,” according to Beltz. 

“Overbroad harassment policies make it all too easy for schools to investigate or even punish students over their protected speech,” she continued.

Beltz concluded by noting that UM’s “red light rating puts it in the bottom 18.5% of schools in our Spotlight database,” and that its policies “could not only be applied to punish protected speech, but also threaten to cast a chilling effect over the campus, as students are likely to self-censor to avoid punishment.”

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UM has a history of free speech controversies.

In December of 2020, FIRE publicly called on UM to “commit to upholding faculty expressive rights” after the university failed to express full support for a UM law professor who faced backlash over controversial tweets. 

According to the professor, the university implied his contract might be terminated due to his speech. 

Campus Reform previously reported on UM’s attempt to impose a $7,646 “security fee” on a conservative student group’s event. 

Another Campus Reform analysis from June of this year found that UM Student Government created an “Anti-Asian Violence Resources” presentation, which informs students that harassment includes “[c]omments about appearance” and “transphobic slurs.”

Campus Reform contacted the University of Miami and the University of Miami Dean of Students. This article will be updated accordingly.