ASU named one of seven best free speech colleges

SPEAKING THEIR MIND: Several dozen ASU students joined together in late April to protest society's tendency to blame sexual violence and rape on the victim. Protests and demonstrations are a regular occurrence at ASU, which was recently named one of the seven best colleges in the country for free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. (Photo by Michael Arellano)

Arizona State University has been named one of the seven best colleges for free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that works to preserve free speech rights on campus and it rates colleges and universities based on their codes of conduct and on reports from outside sources.

Colleges that protect free speech are “green light institutions,” and colleges whose policies restrict free speech are “red light institutions.”

Joseph Russomanno, a professor at the Cronkite School who teaches a course that is based specifically on the First Amendment, said that it is crucial that colleges and universities allow for the exchange of ideas in a “free and open marketplace.”

“Thus, policies that are not restrictive and that encourage expression are necessary,” he said.

ASU is the only Arizona university to have the green light rating from FIRE. It is also the largest public college to be placed on the seven best colleges list. Other colleges on the list were Dartmouth College, the College of William and Mary, the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and the University of Virginia.

It is particularly important that state-run universities protect free speech, Russomanno said.

He said that colleges and universities should not just protect free speech, but encourage it.

“There is a school of thought — one that I adhere to — that colleges and universities should be leaders in the realm of freedom of expression.”

Dr. James Rund, the senior vice president for Education Outreach and Student Services at ASU, said that ASU “regards intellectual discourse and the free exchange of ideas as fundamental to the process of teaching and learning.

“University policies related to free speech acknowledge … our responsibility to insure the rights of individuals,” he said.

According to FIRE, ASU originally had a “red light” rating because of restrictions of free speech in its “Advertising and Posting” policy for student organizations, which originally created viewpoint restrictions in its wording. In January, ASU changed the language of the policy to better protect free speech.

Russomanno said the changing of the language of the policy was “a big step forward.”

“Kudos to ASU for eliminating this policy,” he said.

The Seven Best Colleges for Free Speech is the first list released by FIRE to recognize schools who succeed in protecting First Amendment rights. Earlier this year, FIRE released a list of the 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech. The list included Yale University, Michigan State University and Syracuse University.

Russomanno said that an awareness of free speech and its fragility is “crucial.”

“The burden is not merely on the shoulders of officials, but on those of all of us,” he said.

Reach the reporter at katherine.torres@asu.edu