(Feb. 3 — NOLA version)  Far too many colleges still aren’t getting the message that free speech should be the rule on campus, rather than that rules should seriously limit free speech.

That’s the main, and discouraging, takeaway from a report by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. Every year, FIRE reviews the speech-related policies at hundreds of colleges. While the good news is that the percentage of schools given a “red light” rating “for maintaining policies that clearly and substantially restrict free speech” has dropped in 12 years from more than 60% down to 20% (98 of 489), the trend in the past two years has ticked back upward.

On the other hand, only 63 schools, or 12.8%, “earn an overall ‘green light’ rating for maintaining policies that do not seriously imperil free expression.” The remaining 320, or a whopping 65.4%, are in a worrisome middle zone with policies that put too much of a damper on speech, although not as oppressively as at the red-light colleges…. The situation in Louisiana isn’t good, but at least it is trending slightly less bad. Of the seven Louisiana colleges included in FIRE’s ratings, only McNeese State earned an all-clear “green light” rating. Three — LSU, UL Lafayette and UL Monroe — earned failing “red light” grades. A fourth, Louisiana Tech, actually is listed as having gotten worse, falling from yellow light to red light, but FIRE’s team tells me that Tech moved back to yellow after the list was compiled because it properly narrowed its “harassment” policy to ordinary legal limits.

To show how relatively simple FIRE makes it to show reasonable progress, consider the other two Louisiana schools in the survey, Tulane and Nicholls State. Both moved up from “red light” to “yellow light” ratings, meaning their policies still are problematic but are getting somewhat more reasonable.

Nicholls State had been red because its speech policy banned, with threats of official penalties, expressions that someone could label a “hateful action” merely because it “mocks” a person or group. Thus, FIRE reported, even “an off-color joke” or kidding by a “legitimate peer” could be subject to punishment. Nicholls moved to yellow, though, because it revised its standard so as to punish only expression that “constitutes a true threat, incitement to imminent lawless action, discriminatory harassment, or defamation.”… [For the rest of this column, including discussion of Tulane, follow this link.]




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