FIRE – Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
Each month, FIRE singles out a particularly reprehensible campus speech code for our Speech Code of the Month designation. While all of 2012’s Speech Codes of the Month flagrantly violated students’ and faculty members’ right to free expression, two of them were so egregious that they deserve special mention as 2012’s Speech Codes of the Year.
Illinois State University. Illinois State University’s Code of Student Conduct (PDF) sets forth a list of “non-negotiable values” at the university, including “civility,” “an appreciation of diversity,” and “individual and social responsibility.” The policy then provides that “[w]hen individual behavior conflicts with the values of the University, the individual must choose whether to adapt his or her behavior to meet the needs of the community or to leave the University.” In other words, if a student’s expression or behavior deviates from the university’s definition of what it means to appreciate diversity or be socially responsible, that student may be kicked out of the university.
As a public university, Illinois State has no right to require its students to adhere to certain values as a condition of membership in the university community. If this is not immediately clear to you, just try substituting the word “patriotism” for any of the values on that list and imagine the university enforcing the policy. Administrators at Illinois State would be well advised to read the decision of the Supreme Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), in which the Court held that a public school could not compel its students to salute or pledge allegiance to the American flag. Such a requirement was unconstitutional, the Court held, because “[i]f there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”
ISU had previously won Speech Code of the Month “honors” in September. http://thefire.org/article/14876.html. The code explicitly states that the individual must conform to the values of the institution.
Instead of enforcing a fixed institutional worldview on students, perhaps ISU should be teaching students to be responsible citizens by developing their curiosity, ability to discover facts, apply logic, engage in civil debate, communicate and resolve conflict in a way that respects all points of view. I spent 28 minutes on the phone with various ISU offices to find out that the Office of Community Rights and Responsibility within the Office of the Dean of Students has jurisdiction over the Code of Student Conduct. The Code of Student Conduct is currently being reviewed for possible revision so the timing is perfect for ISU to make a change! As of now, 100% of Illinois colleges reviewed were given FIRE’s Red Light designation for unduly restricting students’ rights. Wouldn’t it be great if ISU became the one and only Illinois campus to earn a Green Light designation for changing their code to allow for robust debate in the marketplace of ideas?! Perhaps ISU needs to hear from its alumni and the taxpayers who support the institution.