WSJ editorial slams Iowa State's 'Orwellian' free speech policies

The editorial came in response to Speech First's lawsuit against the university.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board slammed Iowa State University for its "Orwellian" speech policies.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board blasted Iowa State University over its controversial speech policies, calling one of them “Orwellian.”

In a January 2 editorial, the WSJ editorial board weighed in on the free speech nonprofit Speech First’s recent lawsuit against ISU, which alleged that a number of the university’s speech policies are unconstitutional. The lawsuit cited policies such as a ban on chalking, the “Campus Climate Reporting System,” and the university’s prohibition on students sending political emails. 

The policy with which the editorial board took the most issue, however, is the Campus Climate Reporting System,” calling it “Orwellian.”

”The university may be most legally vulnerable for its Campus Climate Reporting System, which is as Orwellian as it sounds,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote. “Under the ‘system,’ students are encouraged to report ‘bias incidents’ to a panel that includes the chief and vice chief of the Iowa State University Police Department, the dean of students, and the university counsel.”

[RELATED: LAWSUIT: Free speech org says Iowa State is ‘chilling’ political speech ahead of caucuses]

ISU, for its part, told Campus Reform in a statement that it “does not punish individuals for their constitutionally protected rights to expression, nor do we have policies or practices that prohibit expression based on the content of the expression or the viewpoint of the speaker.” The university added that, “as a public institution, Iowa State University fully embraces its role as a First Amendment campus and is deeply committed to constitutional protections of free expression.”

But according to the WSJ editorial board, “none of this is likely to save Iowa State’s policies in court.”

The paper cited the recent example of the University of Michigan settling a lawsuit brought by Speech First, which alleged similar unconstitutional speech policies, namely, UMich’s “Bias Reporting System,” which, as part of the settlement, eliminated that system and replaced with “Campus Climate Support,” which does not have the authority to impose discipline. 

[RELATED: UMich nixes ‘Bias Response Teams’ amid free speech lawsuit]

According to Speech First’s lawsuit, ISU does threaten punishment against students who violate such policies. 

”Under the University’s policy, students who ‘chalk’ an unauthorized message face discipline,” the lawsuit states. Regarding the prohibition on students sending political emails, Speech First’s lawsuit says, “this content-based prohibition on core protected speech is backed by the threat of formal discipline.”

Given the questions surrounding whether students can be punished for violating these speech policies, especially in light of the recent University of Michigan settlement, the Wall Street Journal editorial advised ISU to “settle now to avoid further embarrassment.”

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