When analyzing freedom of speech on campus, there are many reasons to be hopeful. After all, some colleges are making important efforts to better protect the First Amendment on campus. However, a report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that analyzes the state of freedom of speech in the U.S. proves we still have a long way to go.
According to the report, at least 30 percent of colleges across the country earned an overall “red light” rating for having policies that substantially restrict freedom of speech. While the percentage of schools completely restricting speech has fallen four percent this year, public universities are legally bound by the U.S. Constitution — meaning that protecting the First Amendment rights of their students is non-negotiable.
Having policies in place that restrict speech rights is not only a violation of the Constitution, it is also proof that colleges aren’t serious about living up to what’s expected of them. And if we can’t trust an educational facility sworn to uphold the law of the land, how can we trust it with our education and the education of our children?
Freedom Of Speech: Colleges Should Lead By Example
As FIRE explained in its report, the “red light” rating isn’t the only one we should be concerned about.
This year, over 61 percent of higher ed institutions have a “yellow light” rating. Meaning that while their policies aren’t as restrictive as schools that earned “red light” ratings, they still have policies in place that could be abused. In these institutions, students’ First Amendment rights are still at risk.
“[F]ar too many colleges across the country fail to live up to their free speech obligations in policy and in practice,” the report stated.
Thankfully, FIRE will continue to fight for freedom of speech so things continue to change, the report added.
“While the continued decline in red light institutions is cause for optimism, we will continue to work with colleges and universities to ensure that yellow light institutions improve all the way to earn FIRE’s highest, ‘green light’ rating.”
As it stands, only 9 percent of all institutions surveyed hold a “green light” rating. While the low percentage may be cause for concern, it is an improvement from last year.
In 2019, the report explained, 42 colleges and universities protect their students’ freedom of speech rights whereas in 2018, only 35 schools did the same.
What may have played an important role in forcing schools’ hands in changing their policies, FIRE noted, was University of Chicago’s decision to adopt a policy statements that completely support freedom of speech in 2015.
According to the advocacy group, many of the schools that improved their ratings modeled their new policies on the Chicago Statement. This proves that if a college truly wants to dedicate itself to the noble pursuit of awakening students’ desire to learn, all they have to do is to lead by example.
To shine a light of freedom into a dark world of suppression is all that is required of them.