GEORGETOWN, KY – Georgetown College allows fully unfettered free speech for students and because of it has earned a “green light” rating, the highest honor awarded by the non-profit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
“While the overwhelming majority of our nation’s colleges and universities maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech, Georgetown is now a proud exception,” stated FIRE in its recent release.
Only 18 schools nationwide earn a green light rating, with Georgetown just the second green light school in Kentucky, joining Eastern Kentucky University.
FIRE began working on speech code reform with Georgetown administrators in October 2013. Michael Brown, director of orientation and student accountability at Georgetown, led the effort at the college.
“When we’re talking about the students, we say we want to promote their free expression and free thought,” he said. “We thought this would be something good for our students.”
Current state and federal laws which cover harassment, obscenity or hate speech are sufficient, and any illegal behavior is, naturally, not permitted by students, Brown said. However, situations that may make others uncomfortable or even offend some may offer a “teaching moment” he said.
Those moments extend to social media, where other schools around the country have worked to prevent students from criticizing the administration.
“We did not have a policy like that controlling what they could say on social media,” Brown said. “I think that could fall into a teachable moment.”
“The entire Georgetown College community should feel extremely proud today,” said FIRE Director of Policy Research Samantha Harris. “The college’s proactive commitment to free speech is both critically important and all too rare on campuses nowadays.”
The changes have largely been tweaks to the wording of policies, Brown said, noting no procedures need to be struck from the books entirely.
Since news of the announcement began to circulate in the Georgetown community, Brown said the response has been very positive.
“This is something I’ve been excited about since we got the process going about a year ago,” he said. “I just feel really excited for the students and I hope they realize this is for them.”
Georgetown is the ninth school in just over four years to earn the designation. FIRE cites this as a positive trend reflecting growing awareness of free speech issues on campus as well as increased collaboration between it, students, and administrators.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed online.