by Brandi Cunha, Activist Post:
Each year, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) examines the various speech codes of 486 American colleges and assigns them one of four ratings based on how well they protect freedom of expression. Policies considered include those regarding harassment and bullying, civility, technology usage, protest and demonstration, bias reporting, and posting and distribution of materials.
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This year saw significant upticks in the proportion of policies restricting or undermining freedom of speech.
A school earns a “red light” rating when they have policies “that both clearly and substantially [restrict] freedom of speech, or [bar] public access to its speech-related policies by requiring a university login and password for access.”
A “yellow light” rating means the school restricts protected speech, but in narrow and defined categories.
A “green light” rating means the college does not substantially restrict free speech.
For the first time since 2007, the percentage of red light schools increased overall. For the 2021-22 school year, 18.5% earned the rating, while for the 2022-23 school year, 19.3% did.
Despite the rise in the percentage of universities hostile to free speech from the previous year, however, good news did prevail for some colleges and universities. The University of North Carolina at Asheville and the University of South Florida, for example, both moved from yellow to green ratings this year.
Overall, sixty schools, 14.9% of public schools and 3.6% of private schools, earned a green light rating for the 2022-23 school year.
Eight colleges in FIRE’s database (1.6%) came with an additional “Warning” label, which means they “do not promise students free speech rights at all.” Institutions in this category included Brigham Young University, Hillsdale College, Baylor University, and Yeshiva University.
FIRE publishes a recommended Model Code of Student Conduct and Speech Policies for college campuses to consider. They also offer their services to work with college adminstrations across the United States to rectify college policies that do not restrict protected speech.
When asked for comment, FIRE representative Laura Beltz told Campus Reform schools could improve their ratings by abiding by “First Amendment legal standards in defining prohibited conduct.”
“Those who care about free speech should let their schools know they must take action to resolve these policy issues,” Beltz added.
Campus Reform reached out to the University of North Carolina at Asheville, the University of South Florida, Minnesota State schools, and the University of Chicago for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.