CU was recently ranked among universities across the country in a survey comparing the limits of speech placed on students and faculty at the university.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which surveyed the campus mission statement, harassment and diversity guidelines, and other so-called “speech codes,” gave CU a yellow-light rating. Fire rated a total of 334 schools, most of which received a lower grade than CU did.
“I feel that I can talk in public and express myself without being hounded for my opinion here on campus. In my written work, I feel like I need to be slightly more cautious in formulating my opinion, but I think as long as it isn’t too radical, people are fee to say what they like here,” said Roland Burrows, a junior engineering physics major.
Of the institutions studied, 229 received a red-light rating, 91 earned a yellow light and only eight were awarded a green light. The FIRE Web site defined the yellow-light rating attached to CU as an institution that somewhat limits the freedom of expression but not excessively.
“The colleges and universities that earn yellow lights may have policies that restrict a significant amount of protected expression. Most schools fall into this broad category,” states the Web site.
To receive a red light rating, schools must have more than one policy that clearly restricts what should be a protected form of communication. The University of Connecticut, for example, has banned inappropriate jokes, stereotyping and “inappropriately directed laughter.” Colorado State University also recieved a red light.
FIRE awarded a green light to schools that did not have policies limiting speech in any manner.
When evaluating CU, the foundation scrutinized the university’s harassment and computer-use policies in particular.
The university has a general harassment policy, which states that a student or faculty member cannot “make communication towards an individual.likely to provoke a violent response, or otherwise causes fear or substantial annoyance,” as well as a sexual harassment policy and a protected-group harassment policy.
“There’s free expression, and then there is harassment. To me, it is a matter of how you express yourself. I don’t care what you say as long as you say it politely, intelligently and through the right forum. Harassment is when someone is being offensive on purpose,” Burrows said.
Both the sexual and protected group harassment policies state that the harassment must be repeated. Examples being “repeatedly telling an individual that he/she is too old to understand new technology,” or “repeatedly displaying sexually explicit visual materials.”
The CU computer-use policy stipulates that students and faculty may not contact a person with the intention to annoy, or continue “contacting a person who has expressed a desire for communication to cease.”
In addition to an evaluation of policy, the FIRE staff has maintained online blogs on each surveyed university, tracking decisions made by administration regarding free speech issues. FIRE has spent significant time watching CU’s handling of the controversy surrounding Ward Churchill.
“As FIRE stated throughout the controversy, under controlling law there could be little doubt that Churchill’s speech is protected. A university certainly can, however, fire an employee for research misconduct,” wrote Greg Lukianoff in a blog. “However, the fact that the investigation was initiated because of his speech may continue to haunt the University of Colorado and will almost certainly be the basis of whatever lawsuit Churchill’s lawyers initiate.”
As the mission of FIRE states, the foundation is committed to preserving what they view as the core purpose of the right to freedom of speech, which is to protect all forms of expression, even that which is deemed offensive.
“People just can’t go through life without being offended by something, and there is no inherent barrier protecting us from offensive things. That would harm our free speech far more than it protectes us,” Burrows said.
For more information visit http://thefire.org.