Speech Code Victory: Claremont McKenna College Revises 'Speech Code of the Month'
October 10, 2011
Good news for students at Claremont McKenna College: The college has revised an email usage policy that severely restricted the free speech rights of its students.
That policy, which was so egregious that FIRE named it our February 2011 Speech Code of the Month, prohibited the transmission of any "offensive" material, including any "disparagement" based on "religious or political beliefs." At the time, FIRE wrote,
This policy is truly breathtaking in its reach. You can be punished for any email that might be construed as disparaging on the basis of religious or political beliefs? Or any email that is found derogatory or offensive by some unspecified standard? Given that email is a widely used mode of communication among college students and faculty, this policy prohibits a large amount of core political and religious expression—the kind of expression that lies at the heart of the First Amendment and that is crucial to the open debate that should characterize a prestigious college like CMC.
Happily, FIRE has confirmed that the email usage policy is no longer in force; students' email usage is now governed by the college's policy on "Appropriate Use of CMC's Computing and Network Resources" [.pdf]. That policy is not perfect; it prohibits the transmission of material "that might contribute to the creation of a hostile academic or work environment," which infringes on protected speech since only speech that is severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive enough to actually create such an environment can be prohibited. Since this policy could too easily be used to punish protected speech, it receives a "yellow light" rating from FIRE. But it is nonetheless a substantial improvement over the old policy, which explicitly prohibited large amounts of protected expression including core political speech.
FIRE's Speech Code of the Month program has led many schools to revise their restrictive speech codes. You can find a full list of our Speech Codes of the Month—including a list of those that have been revised—here. If you believe that your college's or university's policy should be a Speech Code of the Month, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to the policy and a brief description of why you think attention should be drawn to this code.