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Marshall rated as one of worst schools for free speech

Jan. 28, 2011 @ 11:15 PM

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University has distinguished itself in athletics, academics and even the entertainment industry in the past decade.

This week the school earned a new distinction that ranked it with the likes of Yale, Syracuse and Johns Hopkins University — as one of the twelve worst schools for free speech in the country.

The list was compiled by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, and schools on the list were shown to have a “particular hostility to freedom of speech” Greg Lukianoff, FIRE president said.

“Some schools have earned this distinction by refusing to undo punishments of students and faculty for their free speech, others by engaging in ongoing campaigns against student speech, and one for regulating student speech to the hilt.”

Marshall ranked twelfth on the list, and FIRE’s website even noted Marshall free speech policies with its “Speech Code of the Month” feature for January 2011.

“I truly cannot think of another speech code that prohibits such a staggering amount of constitutionally protected speech,” FIRE contributor Samantha Harris said in a Jan. 3 article. “You can be punished for embarrassing someone. You can be punished for disrespecting someone. You can be punished for exhibiting prejudice, even perhaps in the form of an unpopular opinion on a controversial political or social issue. You can be punished for telling crude jokes. This policy covers so much speech that it seems there is very little speech for which Marshall University can’t punish you.”

Harris noted that, legally, the school cannot punish anyone for violating these rules because it is a “public university obligated to uphold the guarantees of the First Amendment.”

In December, FIRE sent out a letter to university presidents throughout the nation, including Marshall University President Stephen J. Kopp, that warns them of the liability they face if they violate free speech rights of students.

Marshall University’s speech codes have been in place since 1985, and Steve Hensley, dean of student affairs at Marshall, told local media outlets that the Department of Student Affairs has scheduled a meeting for Monday, Jan. 31 Student Conduct and Welfare Board to discuss the code.

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