Category Archives: Free Speech

Maryland Universities Mixed Commitment to Free Speech

Free speech is essential to academic inquiry not just by faculty but to students. Limits on free speech inhibit the open discussion and debate that exposes students to new ideas, challenges their existing beliefs, and their ability to argue and to analyze.

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, keeps tabs on free speech rights at over 400 colleges and universities around the country? How did institutions in Maryland rated by FIRE fare?

FIRE Rating System

A “red light” institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A “yellow light” institution is one whose policies restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression. If a college or university’s policies do not seriously imperil speech, that college or university receives a “green light.”

Green Light Institution

University of Maryland–College Park

Freedom of expression and an open environment to pursue scholarly inquiry and for sharing of information are encouraged, supported, and protected at the University of Maryland. These values lie at the core of our academic community. Censorship is not compatible with the tradition and goals of the university. Source: Policy on the Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources.

Yellow Light Institutions

Frostburg State University

Fliers that will NOT be approved for posting: … Fliers containing content that would be considered offensive to the reasonable person (e.g. nudity, obscenities, etc.) Source: Residence Hall Posting Guidelines.

Three areas of the campus have been designated as “public forum” areas for use by approved student groups, off-campus organizations and individuals: 1) the area of the clock tower, 2) the University Drive triangle between Chesapeake Dining Hall and Annapolis Hall, and 3) the library quad. No other areas may be used for gatherings, speeches or distribution of literature unless first approved by the Office of the President. Source: Policy on Communication of Information.

Verbal/Written Assault includes verbal or written acts, including social media sites, which place a person in personal fear or which have the effect of harassing or intimidating a person. Source: Harassment Policies.

Towson University

To foster a safe and inclusive campus, the University will investigate all incidents motivated by bias. In order to prompt an investigation, the incident must be reported. . . .  [Bias incidents include] inflicting mental or emotional distress upon a person through a course of conduct involving abuse or disparagement of that person’s actual or perceived identity or group membership(s). Source: Reporting Hate Crimes and Bias Incidents.

Each user must accept the responsibility for his/her actions and agree to: … Use appropriate language, behavior and style. Source: Guidelines for Responsible Computing.

Chalking that includes discriminatory, threatening, harassing, lewd and/or obscene language is not allowed. The university reserves the right to remove anything that violates these guidelines and to bill the responsible individual or group. Source: Chalking Procedures.

Offensive items or language shall not be displayed on a door (i.e., room, suite, quad, or apartment) or be viewable from outside a room, quad, suite, or apartment. Source: University Housing Policies.

Red Light Institution

Johns Hopkins University

Rude, disrespectful behavior is unwelcome and will not be tolerated. Source: Principles for Ensuring Equity, Civility and Respect for All.

Unacceptable use of IT Resources includes, but is not limited to: Intentional, non-incidental acquisition, storage, and/or display of sexually explicit images, except for acknowledged, legitimate medical, scholarly, educational, or forensic purposes. Exposure and/or display of such material may be offensive, constitute sexual harassment or create a hostile work environment. Source: Information Technology Use Policies.

On the more positive side:

Our university is committed to the steadfast protection of the right to academic freedom. This commitment emerges from the university’s time-honored role in the creation of knowledge and the sifting and winnowing of ideas. Without full and vigorous protection of this principle, the university’s capacity to discharge its hallowed mission would be compromised. Source: Academic Freedom at Johns Hopkins University.

Unrated Institutions

FIRE doesn’t rate Mt. St. Mary’s. Here is some information from the Student Conduct Code:

Mount St. Mary’s University, believing in [freedom of expression], will protect the freedom of action and freedom of speech for students, so long as their speech and actions are not of an inflammatory or demeaning nature, are truthful and accurate, and do not interfere with the students’ living and study conditions.

Students may invite and hear speakers of their choice on subjects of their choice, subject to the limitation that the University may withhold approval of an event or a speaker if holding such an event or providing a forum for the speaker is determined to be contrary to the mission of the University.

University Policies
R. Posting and Solicitation
a. Posting without approval of a University administration or staff member;
b. Posting on exterior of buildings, trees, lamp posts, stretched or hung across hallways, doors, ceilings, slipped under doors, or posting anywhere in residence halls without approval from Residence Life; . . .
d. Unapproved canvassing and other promotional activities; . . .
f. Posting or display of any material which goes against the Freedom of Expression statement.
g. Display of lewd, indecent, or obscene material.

Morgan State University

I also checked out Morgan State University’s guidelines but did not find any statements that would appear to limit student free speech rights in my quick scan of the Code of Student Conduct.

The Faculty Handbook states the following:

It is essential also that faculty members be granted the right to express their views in a responsible manner without fear of censorship, reprisal or penalty. In the academy, administrators, faculty, staff and students bear a mutual responsibility to exercise professional competence and to extend to each other the trust and mutual respect which foster an environment for the exercise of academic freedom as well as collegiality.