Free Speech on Campus

May 8, 2015 • Volume 25, Issue 18
Where should colleges draw the line?
By Sarah Glazer


University of Oklahoma students stage a protest (AP Photo/The Oklahoman/Steve Sisney)
University of Oklahoma students stage a protest on March 9, 2015, the day after a video surfaced online showing members of the local Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity singing racist lyrics. Oklahoma President David L. Boren swiftly shut down the fraternity, expelled two students for leading the song and later disciplined 25 others. Civil libertarians and legal experts on both the right and left argue the lyrics were protected under the First Amendment. The incident helped spark a nationwide debate on how far college officials can go in regulating controversial speech. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman/Steve Sisney)

Several recent incidents in which college students spewed racist or misogynistic language on campus have renewed debate about how much freedom of speech the U.S. Constitution actually permits. Among the most notorious examples: the singing of a racist chant this year by several University of Oklahoma fraternity members. College presidents at Oklahoma and other campuses have swiftly disciplined students for speech deemed inappropriate, but civil liberties advocates say college officials are violating students' First Amendment rights to free speech. Meanwhile, critics say a small but growing movement to give students “trigger warnings” about curriculum material that might traumatize them indicates that colleges are becoming overly protective. American universities also have come under fire for accepting money from China and other autocratic governments to create overseas branches and international institutes on their home campuses. Defenders of such programs say they are vital for global understanding, but critics say they may compromise academic freedom.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Colleges and Universities
May 20, 2022  Free Speech on Campus
Dec. 04, 2020  Graduates' Prospects
Sep. 11, 2020  Higher Education in the COVID Era
Oct. 26, 2018  Issues in Higher Education
Nov. 20, 2015  Greek Life on Campus
May 08, 2015  Free Speech on Campus
Jan. 02, 2015  College Rankings
Jan. 18, 2013  Future of Public Universities
Feb. 04, 2011  Crime on Campus
Jan. 07, 2011  Career Colleges
Apr. 21, 2000  Community Colleges
Feb. 16, 1996  Academic Politics
Jan. 05, 1990  What Should College Students Be Taught?
Jul. 27, 1984  Colleges in the 1980s
Jan. 23, 1981  Plight of America's Black Colleges
Apr. 11, 1980  College Admissions
Sep. 06, 1974  College Recruiting
Mar. 01, 1974  Academic Tenure
Sep. 14, 1966  Graduate School Crush
Crime and Law Enforcement
Domestic Issues
Freedom of Speech and Press
Student Movements
Students and Social Life