The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

64° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA gets red light on speech

An equal rights organization is asking the UA to revise policies they believe substantially restrict freedom of speech of students.

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is a non-profit group that defends individual rights at colleges and universities in America. They asked all public universities with “”red-light”” speech codes, including the UA, to revise them due to recent courts ruling similar speech codes at other universities as unconstitutional.

FIRE defines a “”red light”” institution as one that “”has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.””

The UA received “”red light”” designations for its policies on bias and hate speech and tolerance, respect and civility.

The UA’s Community Living Guide says residents, staff and guests “”may not physically, verbally, mentally, psychologically or sexually abuse any member of our community, or participate in or condone any form of bigotry, harassment, intimidation or threat, whether verbal, written, physical or psychological, direct or implied.””

The foundation said that although no one wants a campus with hate, disrespect and intolerance, this policy and others like these “”elevate a supposed right to be free from offense above the foundational right to free expression.””

James Mitchell, a lawyer and journalism assistant professor of practice, said these speech codes are “”constitutionally unenforceable.”” He said although the university is acting with good intentions, they cannot prevent offensive and non-threatening speech simply because it makes someone feel uncomfortable.

“”There is a difference between speech and conduct,”” Mitchell said.

Inciting violence and “”fighting words”” can be prevented and punished by the university, he said, but they cannot constitutionally punish offensive speech.

Arizona State University eliminated their advertising policy excluding certain types of controversial expression on Feb. 1. They are now one of 14 schools with a “”green light”” rating from the foundation.

To receive a “”green light,”” a university’s policies must not seriously threaten free speech on campus, according to Samantha Harris, the FIRE’s director of speech code research.

“”FIRE certainly hopes that the U of A will change its policies since, as a public university, it is legally bound to protect its students’ First Amendment rights,”” Harris said. She also said the organization is eager to work with any UA students interested in urging the university to make the needed reforms.

Kathryn Adams Riester, the assistant dean of students, said the UA is currently looking into the foundation’s requests, although she could not make any further comments.

Some students like Armando Osete, a political science sophomore, said they do not feel censored by the UA.

“”The University of Arizona is quite open about many topics on campus,”” he said. “”In our classrooms we learn and sometimes even debate about the most controversial current topics.””

He said although universities should not censor student speech, they should teach students a respectful way to express opinions.

More to Discover
Activate Search