New 'arbitrary' speech code reports that 'cannot be appealed' raise concerns about freedom on campus

Vanderbilt University's new speech policy has garnered criticism from students and the national organization FIRE.

The policy states that speech does not have to qualify as harassment to be reported as being 'inconsistent with the University’s values.'

Students at Vanderbilt University may now be reported for speech that is deemed "inconsistent with the University’s values" and not have the option to appeal such rulings. 

"This determination cannot be appealed," the Vanderbilt Student Handbook states in reference to speech determined to be not aligned with university values. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) calls this protocol a "chilling new policy" that infringes on students' free speech rights and protections. 

"This means that if a student is reported for harassment over their subjectively offensive speech and an administrator determines that their speech doesn’t actually constitute harassment, the student can still be subjected to whatever 'action to mitigate the effects of the conduct” the school wishes to take, without the chance to appeal the decision,' FIRE, an advocacy nonprofit organization, says on its website about the implications for the Tennessee university.

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Campus Reform spoke with Donald Hall, a senior, who said students were not aware of the policy for about one month.

The campus publication Vanderbilt Hustler reported Dec. 10 on the policy, which was updated Nov. 15, according to the publication. 

FIRE made the policy its "Speech Code of the Month for January."

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Vanderbilt student leaders are "worried that the university would now have the power to punish students for speech arbitrarily determined to be unacceptable," Hall said. 

“I worry for all of the younger students, as the door is now open for students’ free expression to be severely limited," he added. 

Campus Reform reached out to Vanderbilt University for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.


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