FIRE Releases 2024 Review of College Speech Codes
Furman remains a red light school
Below is the FIRE review specific to Furman:
FIRE released its annual Spotlight on Speech Codes report, detailing the trends we’re seeing in campus policies over the past year.
Furman earns FIRE’s worst red-light rating putting it in the bottom 20% of the nearly 500 institutions we reviewed.
Furman’s red light sexual misconduct policy defines harassment broadly, but it earns a red-light rating because it reserves the university’s right to “address conduct that, although it does not rise to the level of constituting Sexual Misconduct as defined by this Policy, is nevertheless offensive and/or unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.” This gives the university wide latitude to punish any expression it disapproves of.
Furman’s 6 remaining policies earn a yellow light rating.
Furman’s Act of Intolerance policy broadly defines such incidents as conduct that “demonstrates bias against others because of” an enumerated class which causes or reasonably intends to cause “alienation, or other harm to individuals.” The list of examples includes “Culturally offensive gestures; Theme parties that encourage people to wear costumes or act in ways that reinforce demeaning stereotypes.” While bias expression or conduct may rise to the level of peer harassment or other unlawful conduct, this policy is so broadly written that nearly anything could qualify as an “act of intolerance” and thus subject a student to disciplinary action.
The Student Handbook provision on “Demeaning Behavior” is in effect a civility policy, threatening student groups with punishment for any “actions, activities, events or themes” the university considers demeaning. This policy opens up a broad range of expression to punishment by the university.
The university’s posting policy requires all postings identify the authorship, effectively banning anonymous and pseudonymous posting. Under First Amendment standards, anonymous and pseudonymous expression is typically protected expressive activity.
The university’s policies on bullying and harassment do not meet the Supreme Court’s standard for peer harassment, as articulated in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education. The discriminatory harassment policy defines harassment as conduct that is “severe or pervasive” and objectively offensive, instead of conduct that is so “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” (emphasis added). Furman’s policy standard for peer harassment jeopardizes students’ freedom of expression because it allows for punishment of speech that does not meet the Supreme Court’s standard. In Davis, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that student-on-student (or peer) harassment in the educational setting is conduct that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that’s so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.” As the court’s only decision to date regarding the substantive standard for peer harassment in education, Davis is controlling on the issue. Furman’s policy also provides a list of examples of harassing conduct, such as “unwelcome sexually oriented teasing” without clarifying that such expression must rise to the standard set forth above in order to be punishable. The university’s policy on bullying also falls short of this standard.