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.)