FIRE ranks Tarleton’s free speech policies

By Lance McFarlin –

Tarleton State University has received a red light rating from a national individual rights organization for its policies on tolerance, respect and civility.

The university, however, has a lot of company. A spokesman for FIRE says that 85% of all Texas universities rated have similar ratings.

“Tarleton is violating the free speech rights of every student every day due to its unconstitutional policies.” said Adam Kissel, FIRE’s Vice President. Kissel visited the Tarleton campus in 2011 to speak as part of the Speaker Symposium lecture series.

FIRE is an organization based in Philadelphia, Pa that “defends and promotes the individual rights of students and faculty members at U.S. colleges and universities.” says Kissel. “These include the freedoms of speech, association, religion, press and conscience, plus due process.”

A university spokesperson said that Tarleton students have “countless opportunities” to express themselves. “Tarleton welcomes open disclosure throughout campus.” says Janice Horak, the Assistant Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Tarleton. “There are countless opportunities for students to express their views to the wider community.”

Every year, FIRE evaluates the speech restrictions in place at about 400 colleges and universities, examining policies for the constitutionality. FIRE’s grading system is based on “green”, “yellow” and “red” light policies. ” If a school has any red light policies, it gets a red light. If a policy has only yellow light and green light policies, it gets a yellow light. If a policy has only green light policies, it gets a green light. ” said Kissel.

After explaining that “Tarleton has FIRE’s worst, red light rating,” Kissel said that “most rated universities in Texas also have red light ratings, and TSU only has one “red light” policy. So, it probably is not as bad as the average in Texas.”

Aside from Tarleton’s one red light rating, the university also received five yellow ratings and one green. In Texas, Tarleton, along with eight other universities received one red light for a policy. Four schools received two red light ratings and two schools, Tarrant County College’s South Campus and University of Texas at Austin, received three. Only one school in Texas, Texas State University at San Marcos, received no red light ratings on their policies.

“Texas is one of the worst states in FIRE’s annual report” Kissel said. “In Texas, 85 percent of the rated schools have red lights. That is one of the worst percentages in the country.”

“Tarleton should revise its one red light policy” he said. “This is a severe and substantial violation of students’ actual rights, which include freedom of expression.”

The policy in question in the student handbook says “members of the university community pledge to act with integrity in academic pursuits and in interactions with others; to treat other community members with civility, both on and off campus; and to respect the diversity of ideas, cultures, lifestyles, and opinions of community members.”

Kissell said  many university policies require all campus discourse to be “civil” or “respectful.”

“While this may seem uncontroversial and well-intentioned, it is inappropriate for a university that claims to value free speech to require all expression to be ‘civil’,” he said.  “One of the best explanations of why such a requirement violates the First Amendment comes from a court case in which a federal judge struck down a civility policy at San Francisco State University.

For more information on FIRE and the ratings that Tarleton and other universities around the country, go to thefire.org

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