Freedom Of Speech At Universities

Freedom of speech at universities should be a no-brainer. 

We're all taught that universities are communities where ideas flourish and compete. Whether you're a student or faculty, freedom of speech at universities should be encouraged; yet, that's not often the case...

More often than not, freedom of speech at universities is actually discouraged, censored, or worse: punished.

The First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment protect Americans rights to free speech on public universities. They do so by prohibiting Congress from making any kinds of laws that would abridge a person's right to exercise free speech.

Colleges and universities, many seemingly worried about appearing politically correct, prohibit students and faculty from speaking out or they confine their voices to small isolated areas or "safe spaces" on campus. It's important to note, however, that a lot of times these "safe spaces" are at the request of the students, who ask for protection against certain speech.

It's a struggle when students want both the freedom and protection simultaneously. The issues with freedom of speech on campus are already complex.

Faculty worry about whether their positions are at risk if they say something that could be misconstrued as offensive (such as misconstrued as something racist, discriminatory, or considered sexual in nature) during a lecture. Then you have universities who are typically very quick to investigate these cases vigorously, but why?

Universities take a serious look into these cases, particularly those involving speech that could be construed as sexual harassment because if there are violations, the university could lose funding. The investigations themselves are also long, costly, and bad press. Basically, Title IX prohibits sex based discrimination in federally funded schools. That's why campuses must investigate any and all complaints of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and anything of any sexual nature. But, where it gets tricky is when it comes to cracking down on verbal sexual harassment while trying to protect freedom of speech. This however, paints a slightly clearer picture of the complexity of the issue and why universities sometimes struggle with freedom of speech.

Students and faculty faced with repercussions for exercising their freedom of speech (whether verbally or through actions), should speak to a knowledgeable attorney about their civil rights and what they're next steps should be.

 

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