MTSU receives ‘red light’ rating for restricting free speech


Black Lives Matter demonstration
A group of students participate in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in the Student Union Commons. (MTSU Sidelines / Tanner Dedmon)

Photo by Tanner Dedmon / Managing Editor

MTSU was issued the poorest rating for student free-speech rights by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, also known as, FIRE, on Nov. 1.

FIRE is a non-profit organization with the mission to defend the individual rights of students on college campuses.

According to FIRE’s website, the rights that the organization attempts to uphold include “freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty and sanctity of conscience.”

FIRE utilizes their “Spotlight Database,” which rates over 400 colleges across the United States by measuring to which degree free-speech is restricted on certain campuses.

MTSU was one of the 111 schools in the country that received the “red light” rating for the 2016 year.

The FIRE website states, “A ‘red light’ institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. The threat to free-speech at a red light institution is obvious on the face of the policy and does not depend on how the policy is applied.”

According to FIRE’s “Red Light” press release, other prominent universities receiving the poor rating include Clemson University, the University of Oregon, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Georgia and the University of Kansas.

The press release warns “red light” school administrators that continuously ignore the laws centered on the free-speech rights of students that they risk being held personally responsible for monetary damages in the event of a lawsuit.

“Administrators at these schools can no longer claim they are unaware that their policies violate First Amendment rights. FIRE’s message is clear: Failing to revise unconstitutional speech codes can result in a loss in court and personal liability,” FIRE Director of Policy Reform Azhar Majeed said in the press release.

FIRE also has an effort titled Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project with the purpose of eliminating “unconstitutional speech codes through targeted First Amendment lawsuits.” The SUFS project files lawsuits against schools that FIRE views as upholding unconstitutional anti-speech codes.

In addition to the SUFS project, FIRE does collaborate with university officials in attempts to reform speech codes that are deemed unfit for campuses. According to the press release, FIRE has worked with over 60 institutions throughout the country to revise at least one free-speech code per school.

“Rather than run the risk of being held personally liable, administrators should take this opportunity to be proactive and revise their institutions’ speech codes. FIRE is here to help,” Majeed said in the press release.

It is not known at this time which of MTSU’s policies warranted the “red light” rating. The full list of universities that received the rating in 2016 can be viewed on the FIRE website.

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To contact News Editor Amanda Freuler, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com

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2 Comments

  1. […] MTSU receives ‘red light’ rating for restricting free speech […]

  2. ejamtsuf16
    December 2, 2016
    Reply

    I am glad to know that an organization like FIRE exists. It is reassuring to know that a non-profit is out there defending the rights of students. It seems like there has been an increase in articles that deal with the student body’s right to free speech over the past few months. Hopefully, this trend is occurring because people are realizing more and more every day how powerful their voices can become when they put them behind a movement.

    It does not surprise me to find out that MTSU received a “red light” rating for student free-speech rights. I remember an article being posted in early November about a group of students being asked to move their protest because it violated the “free speech zones” that are mandated around campus. When I first read this article about the low rating from FIRE, I assumed that the two articles were related. Unfortunately, these articles seem to have nothing to do with each other, which means MTSU has other shameful accounts of infringing on student free-speech rights.

    A college campus should be a place to encourage conversations and deep thoughts about topics both familiar and unfamiliar, comfortable and uncomfortable. I think that stifling the student body’s right to free speech with safe zones does more harm than good.

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