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Florida State dumps policies on bias, ‘offensive’ language, ‘demeaning’ behavior, ‘inappropriate’ email

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Several years behind other Florida public universities with ‘green light’ ratings

Florida State University has joined the University of Florida and University of North Florida in earning an education civil liberties group’s top rating for speech-friendly policies.

It dumped five policies that either “clearly and substantially” restrict free speech or are so “ambiguous” that they “too easily” encourage “administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education gave the “green light” nod to FSU on Thursday, praising the taxpayer-funded institution for finally meeting its First Amendment obligations. (UF and UNF got their green-light ratings several years earlier.)

FSU revised the five policies over the past year “to better reflect the university’s commitment to open discussion, academic freedom and respect for differing opinions,” Amy Hecht, the university’s vice president for student affairs, said in FIRE’s press release.

The release doesn’t mention the full details of each prior policy except to note they include “a directive on bias response” and an email policy that bars “subjectively ‘irrelevant’ or ‘inappropriate’ emails.”

A spokesperson for FIRE confirmed to The College Fix that it was referring to four policies archived in July and another cached by Google late Wednesday:

A sex discrimination policy that bans “derogatory or offensive language” – even nonsexual – toward a person based on gender

A nondiscrimination policy that says “offensive, demeaning, or degrading” behavior to persons or will not be tolerated

MORE: FSU bans ‘offensive language’ based on gender

A “Discrimination Response System” that investigates acts of “bias,” intentional or not, defined as a “pre-formed negative opinion or attitude toward facets of another person(s)’ identity”

A harassment policy that botches the Supreme Court’s three-part Davis test by judging conduct that is “severe, pervasive, or persistent” as harassment (emphasis added)

An email policy that identifies spam as “[i]rrelevant, inappropriate or unsolicited emails that are not directly related to the recipients, an employee’s responsibilities, student academic and university experience or other legitimate university-related purpose”

The revised policies now correctly apply the Supreme Court’s Davis test, specify that only “true threats” and preexisting violations of university policy and the law can be investigated and punished, dramatically raise the bar for what’s considered spam, and limit harassment to conduct that “places a person in reasonable fear of harm to their person or damage to their property,” among other specific criteria.

FSU had already adopted the University of Chicago’s principles on freedom of expression, at the urging of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last spring.

“Florida State’s active efforts to earn this designation mean it takes its commitments to free expression seriously,” said Mary Zoeller, FIRE policy reform senior program officer. “Unlike most institutions in Florida and around the country, Florida State’s policies do not restrict constitutionally protected speech.”

Florida public institutions that still fall short include the University of South Florida and University of Central Florida, which have “yellow light” ratings for ambiguity. The private University of Miami, which is bound only by its promises to students, earns a “red light” for unambiguously restrictive speech policies.

Read the release and FSU’s old policies.

CORRECTION: The original post miscategorized the University of Miami. It is a private university. 

MORE: Florida lets students sue colleges for stifling speech under new law

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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