Students can’t say and do whatever they want. But they can say and do more than universities’ policies typically allow.
In fact, 71 percent of public universities nationwide try to hold students to policies that violate first amendment rulings, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s 2010 free speech report.
Court opinions give public college students the same first amendment guarantees and restrictions as other adults. Advocacy groups argue that means all first amendment rulings apply to students.
Groups like the FIRE set out to petition administrators across the nation to correct policies that conflict with first amendment rulings. Among the common policy mistakes, according to FIRE officials:
• Deeming offensive language or actions a kind of harassment.
• Defining harassment from the perspective of the victim, rather than a reasonable third-party person.
• Using undefined words like “demeaning” or “degrading” in harassment policies.
• Requiring discussion to be civil or respectful.
• Allowing administrators to restrict students’ fliers and postings based on content, which includes prohibiting references to drugs or alcohol.
Free speech groups argue that no matter what the policy, universities must provide adequate, specific rationale on restrictions that cannot conflict with the first amendment.
FIRE rates universities’ compliance with the first amendment based on their policies, but does not have an official rating for RSU.
In Oklahoma, the group has given two universities a failing grade: The University of Tulsa and Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma do not have failing grades, but FIRE officials do say they have minor concerns about those universities’ policies.
At the University of Tulsa, FIRE condemns the inclusion of demeaning, humiliating and offensive speech as harassment. Court rulings have supported offensive speech under the first amendment. FIRE also criticizes the university’s Internet usage and protest policies.
However, private universities are not bound by the first amendment.