NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

College Speech Codes Stifle Debate

March 3, 2004

Many colleges prohibit provocative speech protected by the First Amendment through so-called speech codes, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which sued Shippensburg (Pa.) University and other colleges that attempted to censor debate.

Some recent examples:

  • Officials at William and Mary College (Va.), University of Colorado and University of California at Irvine prevented some students from holding bake sales with discount prices for minority students as satirical protests of affirmative-action policies; they relented after FIRE threatened to sue.
  • Last year, Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., took disciplinary action against a student group that posted fliers about a speech by the author of the book, "Why the Left Hates America." Offended students and administrators complained that the title could be considered a form of hate speech; Gonzaga reversed itself after FIRE protested.
  • A writing instructor at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C., claims she was let go last year after criticizing the Iraq war during a class; FIRE is working to have her reinstated.

Encouraging students to show sensitivity to others is laudable, but it's better achieved through persuasion than coercion of those who express disagreeable views. After all, a free exchange of ideas is supposed to be an integral part of the college experience, says USA Today.

Universities can support civility without tearing down posters or limiting speech. Free expression will make some uncomfortable, but that's not sufficient reason to block it within the ivy-covered walls of academia, says USA Today.

Source: Editorial, "Campus rules overreach," USA Today, March 3, 2004.

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