Free to Be Insulting

University of Arizona students are now free to be jerks again.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) praises the university for eliminating its civility requirement for student interactions on campus. According to the organization:

Congratulations to the University of Arizona (UA) for eliminating its one remaining “red light” speech code, a policy on “Civility”…. As a result of this policy change, UA now has a “yellow light” rating from FIRE. UA’s former policy required students to be “respectful” in all of their relationships and banned “verbally,” “mentally,” or “psychologically” “abus[ing]” another person, despite the fact that speech cannot be constitutionally prohibited simply for lacking respect or being abusive. The former policy also banned “bigotry” in “verbal” and “written” form, but failed both to define the term and to recognize that much speech many would characterize as “bigoted” is nevertheless protected by the First Amendment. As a public university bound by the First Amendment, UA has served its students well by rescinding this policy.

Well that’s reassuring

FIRE is right, of course, that being a jerk is federally protected speech though it seems unlikely either the original prohibition or the subsequent revocation of that prohibition have any impact on actual student behavior.

That’s the thing with speech prohibitions; not only are they often illegal, they also don’t work.

Despite the praise from FIRE the college, by the way, did not appear to be terribly eager to publicize the new policy. It didn’t publically announce the change. Arizona just quietly eliminated “Civility” from its Community Living Guide.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer