Feigning Free Speech on Campus – NYTimes.com

Are private universities’ speech codes–in violation of the US Constitution as well as international civil and political human rights (UDHR)–teaching the wrong message to bright young minds?

Last month, Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., forbade students to protest an appearance by Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee. Why? According to university policy, students must apply 10 business days in advance to demonstrate in the college’s tiny “free speech zone” — and Mr. Ryan’s visit was announced on a Sunday, two days before his Tuesday visit.

Also last month, a student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, was blocked from putting a notice on her door arguing that neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney was fit for office. (She successfully appealed.) And over the summer, a federal judge struck down the University of Cincinnati’s “free speech zone,” which had limited demonstrations to 0.1 percent of the campus.

In a study of 392 campus speech codes last year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I work, found that 65 percent of the colleges had policies that in our view violated the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to free speech. (While the First Amendment generally prohibits public universities from restricting nondisruptive free speech, private colleges are not state actors and therefore have more leeway to establish their own rules.)

via Feigning Free Speech on Campus – NYTimes.com.


8 thoughts on “Feigning Free Speech on Campus – NYTimes.com”

  1. I agree with Harry R. Lewis (http://harry-lewis.blogspot.com/2011/08/freshman-pledge.html) that Harvard made an unwise approach to achieve atmosphere of kindness at school while teaching wrong message about freedom of idea as well. As Harry Lewis have argued, suggesting freshmen to sign to a pledge is more like forcing them to accept the idea because signed pledges are displayed on the hall ways, opening up to public who did and did not sign the pledge with good intent of kindness. Perhaps that could have been the Harvard’s strategy to conform everyone to become more kind; but it’s true, signing a pledge doesn’t mean that students will heartily adhere to it. This would be true especially for those who have signed the pledge only not to feel left out of the crowd. After reading the article and Lewis’s blog post, I came to appreciate BYU professors and students more. As an ESL student I often was intimidated by eloquent discussions and thoughtful comments made by my native speaking highschool classmates, but at BYU I always felt that both faculty members and students were willing to and wer patient enough to think that my input to a discussion is as important as anyone else’s. This environment helped me to develop my intellect and learn from them how important to respect each other. This is the environment that Harvard and other schools desire, and I think this was achieved by the pledge we made to byu honor code, which lays out specific instructions, such as refraining from profanities, that are principle driven to inspire us to be kind to each other.

    Harvard should change its approach to achieve the scholarly environment they desire since they can surely serve as precedent, an example, that other colleges might emulate when considering policies in their schools.

  2. Denying the right to speech on private property minimizes conflicts and makes things go smooth, which is exactly what businesses and institutions want. In fact, this has to kept this way, if institutions wish to continue to be productive. Just like granting right to unions can halt work in a factory, allowing free speech on campus can result in uprising of student unions (This happens a lot in Nepal ) , who then may close the campus demanding more flexibility on many issues from the University.

    But with more and more resources getting privatized, the fundamental right to speech has been in decline for those on, using or working on somebody Else’s private property.

    How does America cope with that ? It rewards citizens for being quiet by providing them the best security, (Strong police and military) , food, recreation and services in the world for a decent opportunity cost for law abiding citizens, and harsh punishments or fine for people who violate it.
    Well you may ask, but that happens all over the world. People get services for following law and punished for violating it. Yes, it does but they don’t get “the best” security, food, recreation and service. This drives the world crazy.

  3. The conflict here arises because schools want students to be civil in their expression of free speech. College students are at a point in their lives where it is very tempting for them to be uncivil. Most of them are getting used to their new-found freedoms that are associated with being away from home and parents. The lack of experience that most students have governing themselves in that kind of environment can lead them to do exactly the kind of things that universities are afraid of them doing. Since universities realize that it is hard for students to control themselves, they try and be “parents” to the students by forcing them to behave with strict, free-speech impinging rules.
    The answer to this problem, I believe, is to teach the students good principles and let them govern themselves. A “proper civil behavior” propaganda campaign could help students realize that they can express themselves and their ideas very clearly without having to insult anyone or pose threats to the peace of the community. I believe that if universities tried to promote civil behavior through clubs and the student associations at their respective schools, it would have a much greater impact than trying to force people to be civil with rules.
    This article from the ACLU describes some of the Court decisions on student’s right to freedom of expression and what they mean for student’s rights.

  4. When I read this article, one of my thoughts was, “What are college administrators afraid of?” Are they worried that 99% of their students will occupy a quad with their iPhones, and Instagram photos of their campus will be disproportionately displayed on their friends’ news-feeds? Or perhaps, the rare instance of violence is enough to justify placing unreasonable restrictions on free speech.
    And while only public institutions are held to the constitutional standards of the First Amendment, both public and private universities should share the goal of elevating their students’ ability to express themselves and learn from their peers. So, my real question is: “Why aren’t universities doing more to encourage debates, information meetings, and even protests?” I think that apathy may be more of a threat to campus goals than the possibility of public unrest on campus.
    Here’s an interesting article on recent free speech cases on campuses: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/will-creeley/college-politics-free-speech_b_1943547.html

  5. Every time I glance at this headline, I am reminded of an article from the Student Review on religious freedom at BYU. It generated a lot of discussion and is still getting comments after months. I think it’s relevant. Basically, the article points out that the BYU honor code allows for students of any religion to change religious affiliation, except Mormons. It claims that this is a violation of religious freedom. Whether or not you agree with that claim or that definition of a violation of religious freedom, it’s an interesting article – followed by tons of comments.

    Speaking out, standing up, protesting… these are things we see as vital to our nation’s progress, because governments are often not that great at meeting citizens’ needs – although they’ve gotten better at it. Do these same challenges of authority belong at BYU, where those in charge aren’t the government, but rather the church?


  6. People could, and do, argue the same thing about BYU’s restriction on grooming and moral standards. What makes it legal for these kinds of things to be allowed? The fact that students signed and agreed that they would live by the standards. Private universities who restrict free speech do so under the same premises. Every student going to that university was told in one way or another that the university had certain powers that a state school doesnt have, and each student knowingly agreed to the terms. Many students are ignorant and don’t take the time to read those parts during the application process, but thats their own fault.
    Even with those abilities to restrict certain behaviors, I think universities should still do their best to live up to the principles of the constitution as closely as possible. Theres certain unwritten freedoms that everyone should have, even if you have the ability to restrict them.

  7. Of course I believe that a private university has a legal right to limit free speech, and the person above basically stated that people sign a contract to follow the rules of their university. That is completely right, but doesn’t mean it is morally correct. This is a little off topic, but I think some of the grooming standards of BYU are a bit, authoritative. However, I keep my hair within the school policy, it doesn’t mean I won’t hit the school every chance I get for limiting free agency on something that doesn’t matter for salvation. If you say, “well you knew what you were coming to, it’s your fault”, I would say that you are right. Thus I follow the rules, but that doesn’t make the rules morally right and doesn’t mean we can’t speak out against them. Same thing applies here with freedom of Speech. Yes, students signed on, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work to change the rules. The problem I have is that this limit of freedom of expression shows the colleges do not see us as adults. While yes, many here and at other colleges are not mature, there are still plenty of us who are. We want young people to have a voice that they can use, if we deny that to them now, then it is unlikely they will use it later. That is dangerous for this country, since if we have a docile population who cares little about speaking up, we will crumble as a nation. If it is violence that schools are worried about, there are other ways of handling that than taking away rights that millions have died for.

    BTW BYU is not this list! Which I almost thought we would be

  8. “Students can’t learn how to navigate democracy and engage with their fellow citizens if they are forced to think twice before they speak their mind.”

    I have to argue against this statement. I feel that it is exactly this idea of being “forced to think twice before speaking” that allows for students to learn how to navigate democracy and engage with fellow citizens. I have never seen a successful orator who just blurted the first thing that he thought of. Instead the person who pauses, thinks and tries to articulate his point of view has the advantage. Yes it may be difficult to express your opinion at some private university but stretching your mind in order to articulate your thoughts is a cause for growth that i believe will better prepare students for the future. When a student is pushed to understand his surroundings and the atmosphere in which he is i believe it is then and only then that a meaningful debate can actually be established.

    an interesting article that suggests some pros and cons to freedom of speech and censorship.

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