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IPFW Given Green Light Rating for Free Speech

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Written by: Communicator StaffSeptember 14, 2016

By: Megan Foy

Since November 2015, IPFW has been working with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in order to earn FIRE’s highest free speech rating, a green light.

“The mission of FIRE is to defend students and faculty members at colleges and universities across the country when they have their core individual rights violated. These include freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, due process rights, academic freedom and legal equality,”  said Azhar Majeed, FIRE’s director of policy reform. “We also work with universities to improve their policies so that those rights violations are less likely to
happen.”

According to Majeed, it is important for universities to have policies that clearly align with the First Amendment because it allows for an environment that supports vigorous discussion and an open exchange of ideas.

“The First Amendment is very important on campus. I think that universities are vital in creating a good foundation to understand that you have the right to free speech,” said Jacob Hoger, a sophomore pre-pharmacy major, as he pulled out a pocket Constitution from his bookbag.

“I think it is very important to have the right to free speech on campus. You pay for your education. You should be able to give your opinion as long as it isn’t directly offending someone,” said Tiera Hall, a sophomore organizational leadership and supervision major.

FIRE started working with IPFW in November 2015 after the organization discovered two IPFW speech policies that were considered to have yellow light ratings during a periodic maintenance of FIRE’s college database.

According to FIRE’s official website, a yellow light rating means that there is at least one policy that could be  interpreted as restricting the freedom of expression of students or faculty  members without the intention of doing so because of the ambiguity of the
policy. Some of the Indiana schools that have yellow light ratings include Ball State University, Indiana University -Bloomington and Indiana State University.

A red light rating means that there is at least one policy that clearly limits the freedom of speech for students or faculty members. The University of Notre Dame, Depauw University and the University of Southern Indiana have red light ratings.

“The first (yellow light policy) was under the personal misconduct section of (IPFW’s) student code, which discussed personally abusive language; we would often refer to this type of language as “fighting words.” The second policy was in our student organization handbook, which was about the reservation of space on campus for events,” said Christine Marcuccilli, IPFW’s Title IX coordinator and associate director of compliance.

As stated in the 2016-2017 student handbook, the personal misconduct policy that forbade the use of “fighting words” has been revised to prohibit “any form of communication that involved a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals or to cause damage to another person’s property.”

The policy about reserving space on campus was officially changed in the 2015-2016 student organization handbook.

Prior to the revision, this policy stated that “reserving space requires at least two weeks to complete.” The revised policy has been changed to say “reserving space can take up to two weeks to complete.”

Majeed explained that the changes to the reservation of space policy “were made to make clear that (the approval process) is not to limit the ability of students and student organizations to have spontaneous meetings; rather it is to just coordinate the use of campus space.”

“About a year ago, student groups were allowed to submit requests online to receive online approval, which sped up the approval process.  Because we were already taking less than two weeks for this process in most cases, clearing up the language was not an issue,” said Kasey Price, assistant vice chancellor for student life and leadership.

Price also wanted to reassure that this approval process is not concerned with approving the topic of the event; rather it is to ensure that there will not be any conflicts with multiple organizations reserving a space for the same time.

According to Marcuccilli, although FIRE did offer its assistance, the organization “was not intrusive and these codes are IPFW’s student policies.”

“IPFW was very willing to revise its speech codes to remove any ambiguity. We discussed these two policies, came up with mutually agreeable language, and worked to implement them into IPFW’s codes,” Majeed said.

“Getting the student codes changed was part of a system. We wanted to get endorsements for the new codes from students, faculty, the administration, community advisors, legal and then the final approval from Mitch Daniels,” explained Marcuccilli. “IPFW has always had a philosophy that aligns with the First Amendment; we just made it clearer.”

Daniels has had experience working with FIRE in the past. Out of the three schools in Indiana that have green light ratings for their speech codes, all of them are affiliated with Purdue University.

“I really have to commend the schools within the Purdue system for making these changes. This is a really significant thing because it means that all of their written policies meet First Amendment standards and that the administration has prioritized making these changes and these commitments,” Majeed said.

“I think that it is really reassuring to me as a student to know that IPFW has revised these policies. It is reassuring to know that my right to free speech is not being limited,” said Hoger.

“This is a good change because it has the rules clearly written down; they won’t lead to confusion due to their ambiguity if they are ever challenged,” said Hall.

With this green light rating, IPFW has joined an elite group of 28 schools, which includes universities such as the College of William and Mary, Duke University and Carnegie Mellon University.