(The Center Square) – Several of Missouri’s public and private universities have vague regulations or restrictive policies on free speech and expression, according to a group that advocates for individual freedoms.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression rated 489 colleges and universities across the country in its “Spotlight on Speech Codes 2024.” The study found 85.4% of institutions have at least one policy that could be used to improperly censor students for constitutionally protected speech.
More than 65% of the universities received a “yellow light” for policies the organization determined to be vague regulations imposed on expression. Seven public institutions in Missouri received the “yellow light” rating: Missouri State University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Southeast Missouri State University, University of Central Missouri and the University of Missouri campuses in Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis. Washington University in St. Louis was the only private school in the state with a “yellow light” rating.
Saint Louis University, a private Jesuit research university, was the only institution in the state to receive a warning rating. The organization gave the rating to private institutions that clearly and consistently state they hold a “certain set of values above a commitment to freedom of speech… a ‘Warning’ rating to alert prospective students and faculty members to this fact.” Other institutions receiving a warning rating included the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and Hillsdale College.
No Missouri schools received a “green light,” and only 13% of the schools evaluated received the rating. Those with this designation have policies that don’t seriously imperil free expression, according to FIRE.
No Missouri schools received a “red light” rating. FIRE gave 20% of universities in the report a “red light” rating, indicating the institutions have policies that clearly restrict free speech.
The University of Missouri System and Washington University are among 105 university administrations, systems or faculty bodies to adopt free speech policy statements similar to University of Chicago’s “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression,” or the “Chicago Statement.” The document, adopted in 2015, is a three-page report outlining the University of Chicago’s commitment to free speech. FIRE encourages all universities to adopt the Chicago Statement.
“In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed,” according to the statement. “It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.”