The University of Virginia has modified its campus speech code after consulting with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The University has been collaborating with FIRE since last April in modifying its speech code after receiving a red light rating from the foundation.
FIRE uses three simple rating designations is its free speech classification for public universities: red, yellow, and green. A red light institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A yellow light institution is one whose policies restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression. And if a college or university’s policies do not seriously imperil speech, that institution receives a green light rating. A green light doesn’t indicate that a college actively supports free expression., but instead, denotes that the foundation is not aware of any serious threats to students’ free speech rights from campus policies.
The University of Virginia addressed some long-standing issues with their speech code which had contained ambiguous language and general proscriptions.
One area of concern to which the University responded was the broad wording in its bias reporting policy, adjusting the system so that it is clear that the University cannot discipline or investigate students for protected speech. For example, the term “bigotry” was more clearly defined as “a report of a threat or act of harassment or intimidation — verbal, written or physical — which is personally directed against or targets a University of Virginia student.” The second reform addressed a policy about online threats, no longer including policies that prohibited students from posting messages online that “vilify” other people and sending “inappropriate messages” out on mailing lists.
FIRE is doing a terrific job of engaging university bureaucrats in an open dialogue concerning the free speech issue. This victory at the University of Virginia is just another small but important step in our Take Back America campaign.