William Creeley, the director of Legal and Public Advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told about a dozen students that their freedom of speech may be restricted due to a number of Boston University policies at his “Red Light” District presentation , organized by Liberty at BU, at the College of Arts and Sciences building on Wednesday.
Creeley said that while public universities are bound to ensure the first amendment rights of their students, private universities such as BU are not. BU must fulfill promises to its students, but it still impresses “speech codes,” making it a “red light” university.
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student Anthony Priestas, president of Liberty at BU, said the group asked Creeley to speak because he gives talks across the country about free speech at public and private universities. These talks are based on his experience at FIRE defending a variety of cases involving student groups.
FIRE, a non-profit educational foundation, aims to defend and sustain individual rights at American colleges and universities, according to its website. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty and sanctity of conscious – which in their pamphlet they deem to be “the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity.”
Students at universities should be given the same rights they have in society at large, Creeley said. “For example, students here at BU should have the same freedom of speech when they step off of Commonwealth Ave.”
Creeley said that while BU outlaws verbal abuse, he wonders what BU means by “verbal abuse.” Students know extremes of verbal abuse, he said, but may be unaware that some more nuanced examples, such as diatribes via email, are still considered verbal abuse.
“When a policy is vague, it causes people to choke on their own words because they don’t know where the line is drawn with verbal abuse,” Creeley said.
BU’s policies regarding harassment and Internet usage are also deemed to be “red light,” he said. “Despite these “red lights,” FIRE gives a “green light” classification to the policy regarding student responsibilities.”
“Being on campus as a graduate student, these rights are important to me again,” said Ashley Crutchfield, a graduate student in BU’s School of Law.
Creeley said that the Supreme Court has come down on free speech rules at universities several times over the past 50 years, with rulings in favor of the students.
Defending personal ideas gives students a better idea of what the truth is, he said.
“BU’s policies are restrictive. We are asking BU to live up to its promises of the first amendment,” Creeley said in an interview after his presentation.
Students said they were surprised by things they learned in the lecture.
“It is weird that BU can restrict things that a majority of students do everyday,” said freshman College of Arts and Sciences Andrea Say.