Virginia colleges are behind when it comes to speech protections, a new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) shows.
Out of 18 colleges, only three got “green lights,” meaning they defend free speech on campus. Twelve got “yellow lights,” meaning they uphold one or more policies that are ambiguous enough to restrict students’ speech rights. More concerning is the rating given to Virginia State University, a public college. Its “red light” rating makes it clear the school holds a policy that “clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”
This concerning trend is a reality across the country, where the only two states that had more “red light” schools than Virginia were North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
In the age of #MeToo and other movements hoping to make political correctness the leading and, at times, the only acceptable narrative, freedom on campus has suffered a great deal. Especially in public colleges, where the Constitution should rule supreme and where freedom of speech is a guaranteed right.
College Speech Rules Do More Than Restrict Speech
Universities have always served as a forum where students come together to question prevailing narratives and debate ideas — openly. And yet, we’re seeing colleges playing the role of the authoritarian cultural ruler who sets the standards and tells young men and women what to think and how to express it.
As Laura Beltz, the senior program officer for policy reform at FIRE, told reporters, policies upheld in many of these colleges restrict speech by making students themselves enforcers of the status quo.
“One common type is bias incident policies — policies that direct students to report speech that they perceive as biased to university administrators, whether or not it is protected by the First Amendment,” Beltz said. “About half the schools in Virginia maintain a bias incident reporting policy.”
If simply telling students with the “wrong” ideas they are not allowed to hold public forums or demonstrations on campus wasn’t enough, these policies add weight to keeping up with the standards upheld by school administrators by giving students themselves the power to persecute others for their views. Clearly, that’s a policy that is both dangerous to those impacted by it and harmful to the intellectual development of our nation’s young adults. If anything, bias incident reporting is an irresponsible policy.
But, that isn’t the only issue present in many “yellow” and “red light” schools in Virginia. Other policies that end up restricting speech include regulations for posting information, on soliciting, and vague rules about bullying. Some schools even prohibit students from using certain language that conveys that there’s such a thing as a feminine or masculine gender role.
In a world where the internet made information accessible to anyone anywhere, colleges are becoming obsolete. Are they also going to further diminish their impact in the world by making ideas less likely to be discussed openly on school grounds? So far, the answer appears to be a loud and clear “yes.”