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FIRE grants IU speech policies ‘yellow light’


By Nathan Miller




The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that aims to defend students’ rights on college campuses, has identified IU-Bloomington as a “yellow light” university, meaning FIRE has found several policies to be too vague and allow for too much discretion on the part of university administrators.

However, other Big Ten universities did not fare as well. The University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin all received red light ratings.

This means the universities have at least “one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

At IU, one of the policies FIRE has identified as problematic is that there is only one place on campus designated for spontaneous meetings and exercising free speech: Dunn Meadow.

“The right to engage in spontaneous expressive activity is an important aspect of the right to free speech, and this policy is unnecessarily restrictive,” said Samantha Harris, director of Speech Code Research at FIRE, in an e-mail.

However, Pete Goldsmith, dean of students, said he does not see the policy as too restrictive. He said Dunn Meadow is designated for large gatherings but that smaller displays of free speech are tolerated throughout campus.

Many of the people who speak freely on campus include those who are preaching their religious views, and Goldsmith said these people who come to preach are an example of IU’s openness to free speech.

However, FIRE’s complaints with IU’s policies do not stop at Dunn Meadow. The organization identified six other policies that were ranked as “yellow lights.”

These areas include policies in the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct and the Student Organization Handbook.

FIRE labeled the Preamble for 2009-10 Code of Student Rights as a potentially oppressive policy.

The preamble states, “A student who accepts admission to Indiana University agrees to: ... behave in a manner that is respectful of the dignity of others, treating others with civility and understanding.”

Harris’ complaint with the policy is that free speech can often be offensive, and yet even the offensive speech is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

“For example, it is very common for political cartoons and other kinds of social satire to be extremely disrespectful and mocking of its targets. And yet this type of expression, however much it may not ‘respect the dignity of others,’ is at the heart of what the First Amendment protects,” Harris said in an e-mail.

Other policies that FIRE has disagreed with include outdoor campus event policies, hate speech policies and harassment policies, all of which FIRE argues allow the University to make judgment calls on what is acceptable and what is to be punished.

While a majority of IU’s policies were given yellow lights, IU did receive two green light ratings, including one for the section of the Code of Student Rights titled “Student Rights — Right to Freedom of Association, Expression, Advocacy and Publication.”

This policy states that all students have the right to  free speech without university interference.

It allows students to not worry about opinions shared in the classroom or other University settings and ensures a diversity of opinions  across campus.

“I think that the University community is supposed to be a noisy place and a civil place,” Goldsmith said.

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