Aztec free speech is on FIRE

by Beth Elderkin

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education upgraded San Diego State’s free speech rating for the first time in SDSU’s history yesterday to the highest rating the school has ever achieved.

FIRE is a national organization that rates college campuses for the constitutionality of their free speech and expression policies and has been in operation since 1999.

FIRE’s three-tiered rating system grants a “green light” to schools with no active policies limiting free speech, a “yellow light” to schools with policies that somewhat hinder free speech and a “red light” to colleges with at least one policy clearly restricting free speech.

“Because SDSU has revised its sole red light policy, FIRE is pleased to announce that SDSU’s rating has changed from red light to yellow light,” said Will Creeley, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy.

Until yesterday, SDSU had continuously received a red light rating from FIRE. The most recent red light rating was due to section 1.1.1 of “Student Responsibilities for Academic Computer Use,” a January 2009 policy on SDSU’s ROHAN Academic Computing website which stated: “Students shall not transmit unsolicited information which contains obscene, offensive or discriminatory material to another individual, a mailing list, a news group or a public area on a SDSU computer.”

Last week section 1.1.1 was brought to the attention of Anne Turhollow, interim associate dean for library and information services. She said the policy was outdated and no longer represented the current attitude toward academic computer use.

“It dates back to pretty much the early days of Internet use,” Turhollow said. “When students first began to use email and put up web pages, there was a fair amount of what was considered offensive material. … As people have gotten accustomed to using the Internet, the policies have changed.”

“Student Responsibilities for Academic Computer Use” was changed on Aug. 12 to reflect the University Senate’s current policy, with complete removal of section 1.1.1. Following the news that the policy had been changed, FIRE immediately upgraded SDSU to a yellow light rating. Creeley said his next goal is for SDSU to become the first California institution to have a green light rating for free speech.

“We look forward to working with SDSU students, faculty and administrators to revise the remaining yellow light policies in the months ahead to earn SDSU a green light,” said Creeley.

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