The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) indicated in its 2013 report on the state of free speech on college campuses that the University of Cincinnati seriously restricts free speech.
FIRE — a non-profit organization that supports individual rights in colleges across America — rated UC a “red light” school, which the report defines as a school “that has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”
FIRE looked at 409 of the most prestigious or prominent private and public colleges, giving each a free-speech litmus test.
The study showed approximately three-fifths of the colleges seriously restricted free speech.
“For the fifth consecutive year … this percentage has dropped,” said Samantha Harris, director of speech code research at FIRE, in a statement. “FIRE is happy that speech codes have again declined, but it is hard to feel too good when so many students are still living with censorship. We will continue our work until campus censorship is a thing of the past.”
Although UC has been placed in the “red light” category, the university drastically revamped its speech code in June of 2012.
For example, there is no longer a “free speech zone,” — formally McMicken Commons — said Greg Hand, UC spokesperson.
The university also lifted its Expressive Activity Policy, meaning any student group of 25 or fewer may engage in expressive activity without calling campus scheduling.
No one from FIRE was available to specify what part of UC’s speech code earned it the “red light” rating as of press time.
The General Policy of the university speech code states, “the University of Cincinnati considers freedom of inquiry and discussion essential to educational development and recognizes the right of students to engage in discussion, exchange thoughts and opinions, and speak freely on any subject in accord with the constitutions of the United States and the state of Ohio.”
The code was changed due to a lawsuit brought forward by the UC chapter of Young Americans for Liberty — a student group dedicated to promoting individual liberty, constitutional government and Libertarian principles — when the group was barred from gathering petition signatures in certain parts of campus.
An Ohio Federal Judge ruled the university had to change its speech code to allow Young Americans for Liberty students to petition on campus.
No problems resulting from the change in speech code have been reported at this time, Hand said.
The report released by FIRE showed positive results for speech codes at other colleges. In the 2012 report, approximately 75 percent of campuses earned a “red light” rating, but that rating fell to 62 percent in the 2013 report.
FIRE looked at speech code categories ranging from obscenity and harassment rules to Internet usage policies.
The report also looked at anti-bullying policies, and claimed “media attention [put] pressure on legislators and school administrators — at both the K-12 and collegiate levels — to crack down even further on speech that causes emotional harm to other students.”
While many might argue restrictions on “bullying” speech would be a positive thing, FIRE maintains any restriction on freedom of speech as laid out by the First Amendment is negative.