The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has published its 2016 ratings of free speech in U.S. college campuses. Despite all the publicity given “safe spaces” and microagressions,” formal campus speech policies are getting somewhat less restrictive nationally, FIRE reports. Three Virginia universities stand among a small minority of institutions that do not threaten free speech. The rest are problematic.
Red Light (policies that clearly restrict free speech):
Norfolk State University
Yellow Light (policies that can be interpreted as restricting free speech):
Christopher Newport University
James Madison University
Mary Washington University
Old Dominion University
Virginia State University
Green Light (policies do not seriously threaten free speech):
College of William & Mary
George Mason University
University of Virginia
While some universities are shifting away from restrictive speech codes, many have begun implementing “bias reporting” systems that encourage students to report one one another, and faculty members, whenever they subjectively perceive that someone’s speech or expression is biased. The FIRE report gave Longwood as an example:
There are currently no comments highlighted.
Bias response systems, adopted by hundreds of institutions across the country, solicit reports of bias, which most universities explicitly define to encompass speech protected by the First Amendment. In some cases, the university realizes that it cannot impose speech codes, yet does so under the guise of providing “education” to offending speakers—through administrators.
Longwood University in Virginia, for example, recognized that “courts have not upheld … overly broad” speech codes. Instead, Longwood created a bias response system with a broad definition of bias: “a tendency or inclination; irrational preference or behavior that prevents unprejudiced consideration of people, events, or situations”—including “political or social affiliation.”
In an attempt to avoid the problem of unconstitutionality that Longwood recognizes, the policy provides that while “specific prohibitions” related to bias may be constitutionally problematic, the university will “include appropriate education sanctions when a student is found responsible.” Moreover, the policy leaves open the possibility that bias incidents could be subject to more severe sanctions under the university’s conduct policies, noting that bias incidents “may fall under the ‘Abuse to Persons’ violation” of Longwood’s conduct code.