National Report Blasts University’s Speech Policies

FIRE’s report criticized Fordham for restricting online expression and hindering free speech, among other things. (Photo by Sam Joseph/The Ram; image courtesy of


The policies set forth by Fordham’s student handbook substantially restrict students’ freedom of speech, according to the 2014 report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

This year’s report specifically mentions the restriction of online expression, pointing out that Fordham “prohibits the use of ‘any IT resource or communication services, including e-mail or other means’ to ‘insult’ others.”

FIRE also cited Fordham’s policies on harassment, tolerance, respect, civility and a lack of free speech zones as restrictions on students’ expressive rights.

The university earned a “red light” rating, which means Fordham has a speech code that “clearly and substantially restricts protected speech,” according to the report. In fact, 59 percent of the 427 colleges surveyed nationwide earned a “red light” rating.

Christopher Rodgers, dean of students at Rose Hill, said in a statement: “It looks like few institutions fare well in their ratings, perhaps because managing the tension between free speech and freedom from discrimination is quite complicated.”

He said his office had not yet fully analyzed the methodology used to generate the report’s findings.

“In general, [the report] seems to illustrate the gap between theoretical ideal and the sometimes messy and complex day-to-day reality of university life,” Rodgers said.

Aileen Reynolds, FCRH ’14, and executive president of Rose Hill’s United Student Government (USG), says she has not found any reason to move forward with any specific initiative to mend the report’s perceived free speech restrictions.

“This year, I have been hyperaware for any comments, complaints or requests from students regarding the issue,” she said. “So far, none has been brought to my attention and therefore no formal action has been made in response.”

Since controversial pundit Ann Coulter was disinvited to speak at Rose Hill in November 2012, the topic of free speech at Fordham has been at the forefront of conversations on campus.

USG worked with students last year to generate a 45-page report that was geared toward sparking conversations about free speech issues on campus. The “Report on Speech and Expression of Student Organizations at Fordham University” included testimonials from students, most of them club leaders, and concluded: “Some of the issues we identify are structural, while others are perceptual, and nearly all of them can be improved with increased communication between students and administrators.”

Along with Fordham, many other Jesuit schools — including Boston College, College of the Holy Cross, Georgetown University and Marquette University — earned a “red light” rating.