The Sixth Circuit Pounds Another Nail in the Coffin of the University Speech Code

The day when universities are forced to rediscover their historic role as guardians of open inquiry and debate is coming, whether they like it or not.

There was a time, in the recent past, when universities were in the grip of a kind of speech-code fever. Even as recently ten years ago, after a wave of litigation striking down campus speech regulations, the vast majority of American colleges and universities still kept clearly unconstitutional speech codes on the books. They kept losing in court, yet they still couldn’t quit their codes.

Fast-forward a decade and that’s changed. Between 2009 and 2019, the portion of surveyed American universities with what the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education classifies as “red light” speech codes has shrunk from 74.2 percent to a mere 28.5 percent, and a total of 17 states have enacted some form of campus free-speech legislation. But the impulse to censor dies hard, and some schools have been nothing if not creative in their efforts to control speech without explicitly and clearly running afoul of the law. Witness, for example, the phenomenon of the “bias-response team.”

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