Free Speech & Peace

Free Speech Codes At CUNY

June 23, 2016

The City University of New York (CUNY) has prepared a draft policy document aimed at safeguarding free speech. As Maxine Joselow reports for Inside Higher Education, the policy states, among other things, that “concerns about civility can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however disagreeable or offensive they may be to some members of the university community.”

The policy had originally set up speech zones for demonstrations, but those provisions were removed after community feedback. CUNY’s policy does have some time and place restrictions, however, including prohibiting overnight camping and a clause that allows the university to prevent “behavior that adversely affects or directly threatens to negatively affect the health or safety of persons or their opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the university or materially disrupts or seriously threatens to materially disrupt university functions or operations.”

While it is reasonable for universities to enforce policies that prevent behavior which hinders universities from carrying out their core educational functions, this clause in CUNY’s policy has been the subject of criticism from the Doctoral Students’ Council, as they worry that it may empower the university to restrict speech it does not like.

However, the CUNY policy appears to be a step in the right direction by making clear that speech cannot be restricted because of its content, thereby helping to ensure that a diversity of views can be voiced at the university.