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Majority of U.S. campuses do not support freedom of speech

Freedom of speech on college campuses throughout the world has been restricted as institutions look to limit student criticism.

Universities often sit in an odd position when it comes to the freedoms that they provide their students. On the one hand, these institutions are supposed to foster independent and critical thought, while on the other hand, they want to preserve themselves as institutions of higher education with minimal conflict.

The relationship between free expression and college campuses has a long history that is certainly not free from controversy. The Kent State massacre, in which members of the National Guard open fired on students is certainly a prime example of how these two competing tenants of major universities can get mixed up in detrimental ways.

It is important for universities to be able to foster a culture of open minded thinking, as many see a quality education as one that breeds independent thought. However, a new study indicates that while universities may tout this element of education on the external, their internal policies may be different.

Majority of universities limit student rights
A report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education indicated that 59 percent of the 427 colleges and universities that were examined seriously limited the free speech rights of students. While this is certainly an alarming figure, as it shows that the majority universities express severe limitations on the state of free speech throughout the country's universities, it was actually an improvement over the previous year.

The research found that another 35.6 percent of the schools surveyed have university policies that "overregulate speech on campus." Public and private schools that fail to deliver on their commitments of free speech rights both declined though the figure for each instance is still above 50 percent.

Limiting harassment
The report indicated that part of this decrease is due to the fact that the federal government has sent mixed signals when it comes to prohibiting harassment. 

"We are heartened to see another drop in the percentage of campuses maintaining restrictive speech codes," said Samantha Harris, the director of policy research at FIRE. "There is much more work to be done, however, particularly in light of the confusing messages coming from the federal government about the relationship between harassment and free speech. For starters, the Department of Education needs to make clear to universities, once and for all, that prohibiting harassment does not mean restricting protected speech."

There is certainly a fine line between harassment and free speech. However, universities need to make sure that in looking to limit harassment on campus, they are not prohibiting dissent and more open dialogues about important issues on campus.

Restrictions seen on global scale
Care2 reported that universities in the U.K. and the U.S. have recently partaken in practices that have implemented severe limitations on the state of free speech throughout the country.

The first instance comes from the University of London, which has banned protests for six months, following demonstrations that led to 41 student arrests. Students were upset with rising university fees and the treatment of many worker on campus. The source reported that these protests have led to instances of police brutality, though the authorities have said that they never received any official complaints.

In New York City, there have been prohibitions on student protests at Cooper Union and City College in New York City following sit-ins in protest of university rule changes in both instances that could be used to limit such activity in the future.

While it the responsibility of the university to maintain order, they need to make sure that they take care to not limit the rights of students to freely express their opinions.

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