A national organization is warning several public colleges and universities in Texas to repeal highly restrictive speech codes that infringe on students’ rights to free speech or else they may find their university, and themselves, in court.
Yesterday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education issued a warning to more than one hundred of the nation’s largest and most prestigious public colleges and universities advising them to review their student rules and other regulations or risk a lawsuit.
“Far too many of America’s public colleges and universities still restrict campus expression with blatantly unconstitutional policies,” said FIRE Director of Policy Reform Azhar Majeed. “Administrators at these schools can no longer claim they are unaware that their policies violate First Amendment rights. FIRE’s message is clear: Failing to revise unconstitutional speech codes can result in a loss in court and personal liability.”
Amongst a number of Texas institutions receiving the letter were the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Women’s University, and the University of Houston which all received a “red light” rating from FIRE for “clearly and substantially restricting student and faculty speech on campus.”
The group’s warning should not come as a surprise. Many UT students and staff support an ongoing effort to penalize students for hosting an affirmative action bake sale on the campus last week. Likewise, at the University of Houston last summer, a student was sanctioned by the campus’ student government and stripped of her scholarship for posting “All Lives Matter” on Facebook.
But the problem isn’t limited to those campuses. Texas A&M, often thought of as a conservative institution, received a “yellow light” rating along with Texas State and Texas Tech over speech restrictions that FIRE argues still infringe students’ First Amendment rights.
Meanwhile, Baylor University, a private institution, doesn’t even promise its students free speech.
University administrators who enforce unconstitutional speech codes should tread carefully. In its letter, FIRE highlighted a recent federal court decision holding administrators at Iowa State University personally liable for their actions.
In May, Blinn College was forced to pay out $50,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees in a settlement when one of its students filed suit challenging rules holding she needed “special permission” from the Blinn administration to advocate for gun rights on campus.
Such a state of affairs highlights a desperate need for reform in order to protect student rights – an effort FIRE has offered their help with. In the past two years, the organization has worked with 11 different colleges and universities to reform their speech codes and earn their highest “green light” rating.