SC Vs. NC: University Speech Codes -Zachary Faria

The logo of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(F.I.R.E.)

While universities in South Carolina continue to rank near the bottom with overreaching speech codes, their counterparts in North Carolina offer a model for improvement according to a new report.

The Martin Center and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) partnered together to look at the state of free speech on college campuses in North Carolina in 2010 and again in 2018. In 2010, the report showed that no universities in the state had received a “green light” grade from FIRE, but now the Martin Center’s Chris West notes that “North Carolina’s public universities have perhaps the strongest First Amendment protections in the country.”

FIRE has three grades for university speech codes: green light universities have no policies that “seriously imperil” speech, yellow light universities have policies that “restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression,” and red light universities have “least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

Every university ranked by FIRE in the state of South Carolina has a red light rating, as Clemson joins Coastal Carolina, College of Charleston, Furman, and USC at the lowest possible ranking. North Carolina has eight green light universities and eleven yellow light universities, with private schools dominating the remaining 17 red light grades (Duke University is one of the rare private universities with a green light rating).

“Every university ranked by FIRE in the state of South Carolina has a red light rating, as Clemson joins Coastal Carolina, College of Charleston, Furman, and USC at the lowest possible ranking.” (Photo of: Tillman Hall)

Among Clemson’s individual policies, the sexual harassment portion of the Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination policy receives a red light, while the harassment section receives a yellow light rating along with the “Computer Misuse”, “Harassment”, and “University Posting” sections of the student code of conduct.

Perhaps the best model for Clemson and other universities in South Carolina is that of UNC-Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, widely regarded as a bastion of progressivism, was the first university achieve a green light rating in the state, revising their student flyer and “disparaging speech” policies, two policies that are similar to two of Clemson’s own. The proactive move by Chapel Hill led to changes throughout the rest of the UNC system, thanks to legislation from the North Carolina legislature. North Carolina Central and UNC-Greensboro both rose from red light universities to green light universities after altering their respective sexual harassment policies, giving precedent for Clemson to rise from its low grade. If Clemson were able to revise the sexual harassment policy in accordance with free speech protections, Clemson would be able to rise to an overall yellow light grade.

CUSG last semester passed a resolution to request the university add more protected categories to the Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination policy, but did not address the free speech concerns in the policy. Clemson includes “unwelcome sexual advances” and “verbal conduct of a sexual nature” as sexual harassment, and lists “jokes or other verbal conduct” as an example of harassment.

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