The percentage of campus speech codes has declined for the 10th straight year, according to the latest report issued by the Foundation for Individual Rights.
The foundation, otherwise known as FIRE, defines speech codes as “policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech.”
Though almost a third, 32.3 percent, of surveyed institutions possess such codes, this is a 7-point drop from last year’s findings and almost 42 points lower than the 2009 figure.
Moreover, FIRE finds that 27 schools or faculty bodies (seven more than last year) adopted statements pledging their commitment to free speech. The University of Chicago published the first statement of this kind in January of 2015. Yet, these findings only slightly suggest that the prevailing attitude toward free speech on campus is changing for the better.
More than 90 percent of universities still restrict speech in some way through one or more policies, according to FIRE. The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization rates colleges and universities in their Spotlight database as “red light,” “yellow light,” or “green light” institutions based on how much, if any, protected speech their policies restrict.
FIRE has found that roughly one in nine institutions have a “free speech zone” policy that restricts student demonstrations and expressive activities to small areas of campus.
Additionally, 30 percent of surveyed colleges and universities maintain some form of “bias response team” to identify hate speech on campus. More than half of the private institutions surveyed have some sort of student team tasked with anonymously reporting other students for speech that is “subjectively offensive.”
“More institutions than ever before understand the importance of free speech and are taking concrete steps to protect it,” said FIRE Vice President of Policy Research Samantha Harris. “There is still a lot of work to be done, though — and we look forward to working with more colleges and universities in the years to come.”
Kate Hardiman is pursuing a master's in education from Notre Dame University and teaches English and religion at a high school in Chicago.