Free Speech Rating Sets High Standard for University Policy

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has awarded Emory University its highest rating for free speech on campus, making Emory the first university in Georgia to achieve the “green light” rating.

Sasha Volokh, the chair of the University’s Open Expression Committee and an associate professor of law at Emory, worked with FIRE to bring Emory’s policies in line with the Foundation’s standards. Many of the changes involved modifying language and improving the definitions of infractions so that violations of Emory’s policies cannot be construed in a overly broad manner.

A noteworthy example of a change involves Emory’s Information Technology (IT) Usage Policy. The policy previously prohibited personal use of University IT resources for supporting political candidates or campaigns or in any manner which “reflected poorly on” Emory, which would have included the use of EmoryUnplugged wifi on a private computer for either of the aforementioned purposes. That language has since been excised. For more details on these changes, reference the Wheel’s news coverage here.

We wholeheartedly agree with these changes.

It is important to take a moment to recognize the achievement of Volokh and the Open Expression Committee and the goodwill demonstrated by University President Claire E. Sterk and other Emory administrators. Emory joins a list of only 37 schools nationwide which have received a green light rating for their speech codes.

However, it is equally important to take note of progress that is yet to come.

In addition to tracking University speech codes, FIRE also maintains a list of due process procedures at top academic institutions. Emory adjudicates a wide range of student misconduct and is capable of levying punishments which can have enormous effects on the opportunities of students after graduation.

It is appropriate for Emory to have this power and is of vital importance to our community that students who violate policies regarding academic integrity, student safety and interpersonal conduct meet proper consequences. Still, it is troubling that Emory’s policies regarding the rights of the accused received a D rating from FIRE. Out of 10 criteria evaluated, Emory was judged satisfactory on only the meaningful right to appeal.

We commend the University for its ongoing commitment to the free exchange of ideas, and fully expect that Emory will continue its efforts and work to improve all University policy.

The above Editorial represents the consensus opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.

The editorial board is composed of Nora Elmubarak,  Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Isabeth Mendoza, Boris Niyonzima, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois and Mathew Sperling. 

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