Over 90 percent of the top colleges in the United States have some form of policy regulating free speech on campus. According to a recent report, one-third of the colleges apply severe and restrictive policies.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reported that over half of the 461 schools said they studied in their annual study limit free speech in some way.
From the study:
“Despite the critical importance of free speech on campus, too many universities — in policy and in practice — chill, censor and punish students’ and faculty members’ expressive activity. One way that universities do this is through the use of speech codes: policies prohibiting speech that, outside the bounds of campus, would be protected by the First Amendment.”
For the 10th consecutive year of the study, the percentage of “red light” schools, those with severely restrictive policies, declined. The study also reports that an unprecedented number of colleges have removed all of their speech codes which designates the college with a “green light” rating.
Most of the schools in the FIRE study, 58.8 percent, received a “yellow light” rating. This rating means the school’s policies hinder or prohibit protected speech.
For private versus public colleges, private colleges had 53.9 percent in “red light” ratings while public schools had 26 percent receiving “red light” ratings in 2017. Both public and private colleges had decreases in “red light” ratings from the previous year. According to the report, the First Amendment generally does not apply to students at private colleges because the First Amendment regulates only government — not private — conduct. Moreover, although acceptance of federal funding does confer some obligations upon private colleges (such as compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws), compliance with the First Amendment is not one of them.
Georgia had two colleges rated as a “red light” school for 2017 and those were the Univerisity of North Georgia and Georgia Southern University. “Yellow light” colleges were Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, University of Georgia, Valdosta State University, and the University of West GA. There were no Georgia colleges listed with a “green light” rating or a “warning” rating.
The University of North Georgia, University of West GA, and Valdosta State University have designated Free Speech Zones on campus.
According to the FIRE report, the restrictions are likely to be defeated. The report says that “[a]ny speech code in force at a public university is vulnerable to a constitutional challenge. Moreover, as speech codes are consistently defeated in court, administrators are losing virtually any chance of credibly arguing that they are unaware of the law, which means that they may be held personally liable when they are responsible for their schools’ violations of constitutional rights.”