University has a red light on free speech, rights advocate says

Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education says the University’s policy on biased speech does not facilitate an open forum.

By James DelVesco

Azhar Majeed of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education (FIRE), spoke about the University’s lack of tolerance for certain kinds of free speech on Monday night.

FIRE, a nonprofit that provides support for students who may have had their civil liberties violated in educational institutions, has rated the U of C as a red light school, the lowest of their three traffic light rankings, based on their speech tolerance policies.

The most problematic policy, according to Majeed, is the Bias Response Team policy, which allows the University to look into any speech with prejudicial motives, “but may not meet the necessary elements required to prove a crime,” the policy reads.

Majeed said that the University’s ability to investigate incidents that would not be prosecuted in a court of law is a violation of First Amendment rights.

“That’s going to make you think twice about saying anything edgy or controversial,” Majeed said.

Though the University as a private institution is not subject to the same standards as a public university would be, it advertises itself as an arbiter of free speech. That insistence, according to Majeed, opens them up to FIRE’s rating system.

All 14 higher education institutions that FIRE rates in Illinois, including Northwestern, have red light ratings, according to Majeed, though he sees no justification for this in the state’s attitude toward speech historically.

Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania, and Carnegie Mellon are three of the 16 schools that have green light ratings, out of about 400 total schools FIRE ranks.

The talk was sponsored by the libertarian RSO Students for a Free Society.