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Free speech policies given red light rating

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Sam Stroud

Staff Writer

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization that reviews universities’ free speech policies and behaviors on a green, yellow and red light scale, recently gave Troy University a red light rating. 

Schools given a red light rating have policies that “unambiguously infringe on what is or should be protected expression,” according to FIRE’s website.

FIRE says Troy’s speech code is “extraordinarily overbroad and vague.” In 2013, FIRE gave Troy University its award for “worst speech code.” 

One policy given the red light rating states that “cruelty, obscenity, crudity and offensiveness, for the sake of offensiveness, have no place in the public discourse of a university community.” 

FIRE also flagged the policy, stating, “Harassment is any comments or conduct consisting of words or actions that are unwelcome or offensive to a person in relation to sex, race, age, religion, national origin, color, marital status, pregnancy, disability or veteran’s status.”

These policies may be considered restrictive to freedom of speech because of how vague they are.

“If you have to question the First Amendment on a college campus, I think you are probably going to be in trouble,” said Logan Wetzel, a junior criminal justice major from Moulton. “A lot of people want to have free speech until they actually get offended.” 

Wetzel said campus safe spaces can contribute to the restriction. 

“We have safe zones here that are called safe spaces on a national level — they are pretty much the same thing,” Wetzel said. “I think that kind of limits our free speech a little bit, and I think that’s a big part of what makes us a red light school.” 

“Universities should be a place where free speech flourishes,” said Dr. Patrick Faircloth, an associate professor in the department of counseling, rehabilitation and interpreter training, and the founder of Troy University’s Inclusion and Acceptance program. “I don’t agree with the safe spaces concept that some universities have adopted where whole sections of the university you can’t say this or you can’t say that.

“We are about freedom, we are not about restricting and my issue with some of these places that have these spaces is that I believe that they are restricting freedom of speech, they are restricting freedom of thought, and I think the program we have is the next step in where they might go, where everything is all voluntary.”

On an administration level, the university has taken steps to address concerns raised by the FIRE report. 

“We’ve changed our policies over the last couple years in order to try and be more open,” said Dean of Student Services Herbert Reeves. “At one time, we had a designated area for free speech.

“We don’t have that anymore — the entire campus has become a designated area. We believe in the First Amendment, and we support the First Amendment.”