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Student asks accreditor to investigate his university for suppressing conservative speech

Making students get ‘permission slips to talk to other students’ violates its accreditation

Transylvania University shut down a Young Americans for Freedom tabling event in May, just a day after allowing a Young Democratic Socialists of America tabling event.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education intervened, warning the Kentucky private school that some of its speech-related policies violate its promises to students. Transylvania responded by justifying its case-by-case restrictions on student speech as a matter of constitutional time, place and manner regulations.

In response to this blowoff, one Transylvania student took it up a notch.

Theodore Roberts filed a complaint with the university’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, claiming it’s out of compliance with accreditation standards:

By restricting speech to a heavily obstructed quarantine zone and requiring a heavily bureaucratic permit process … Transylvania University has fostered a climate that is hostile to open expression, the exchange of ideas, and dissenting beliefs. Transylvania’s “Free Speech, Protests and Demonstration Policy” directly goes against the values of SACSCOC and devalues the liberal arts education Transylvania University promises. Given that this university has used this policy to target student groups, it is clear that Transylvania University has created a free speech crisis for itself that directly contradicts SACSCOC’s standards.

The complaint cites Transylvania’s rationale for the disparate treatment – time, place and manner regulations – and flips it around, noting that YAF had “tabled at the same time, place, and manner” as the YDSA chapter a day earlier.

MOREKentucky law abolishing free speech zones doesn’t affect Transylvania

Noting the university told the media it would review its speech-related policies this summer, Roberts emphasizes to the accreditor that Transylvania’s response to FIRE made no mention of this promised review. Transylvania “pledged to continue these policies that not only violate their contract with the student body, but also violates their contract with” the accreditor.

Its policies violate the SACSCOC “Philosophy of Accreditation” because students are required to obtain “permission slips to talk to other students,” the complaint reads. Roberts says he and fellow students have “exhausted all other options outside of the legal realm” and he does not plan to sue.

In a blog post Friday, FIRE said the university didn’t respond to its June 24 letter that told the university which specific section of its accreditation standards the university was allegedly violating.

The SACSCOC Resource Manual says accredited institutions’ policies must be “implemented and enforced by the institution.” But Transylvania requires students to “comply with a set of onerous standards before they are allowed to speak their minds on campus,” wrote Will Creeley, senior vice president of legal and public advocacy.

The vagueness of those standards functionally penalizes student with “unpopular viewpoints,” violating the university’s accreditation requirements to provide students opportunities for “the open expression and exchange of ideas.”

Read the accreditation complaint and FIRE’s latest letter.

MORE: FIRE warns university for selectively enforcing speech rules

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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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