Journalism and Mass Communications, College of

 

Date of this Version

8-2014

Citation

Welch, B. (2014). An Examination of University Speech Codes’ Constitutionality and Their Impact on High-Level Discourse (Master's thesis). University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.

Comments

A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Journalism and Mass Communications, Under the Supervision of Professor John Bender. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2014

Copyright (c) 2014 Benjamin M. Welch

Abstract

The First Amendment – which guarantees the right to freedom of religion, of the press, to assemble, and petition to the government for redress of grievances – is under attack at institutions of higher learning in the United States of America. Beginning in the late 1980s, universities have crafted “speech codes” or “codes of conduct” that prohibit on campus certain forms of expression that would otherwise be constitutionally guaranteed. Examples of such polices could include prohibiting “telling a joke that conveys sexism,” or “content that may negatively affect an individual’s self-esteem.” Despite the alarming number of institutions that employ such policies, administrative and student attitude toward repeal or ensuring their free-speech rights are intact is arguably lax. Some scholars even suggest that colleges’ prohibitions are welcome, and are a product of a generation of students rejecting the tolerance of hate speech. Court cases and precedent disagree, though, and various prominent rulings are discussed that have shaped the landscape of conduct codes in today’s academia. Also described are examples and outcomes of academic prosecution of students by school officials for constitutionally protected speech, opinion, expression or conduct. More research is imperative before occurrence of a culture shift that eradicates expression and topics of discussion and criminally prosecutes speech outside of the talking points of an ivory tower echo chamber of approved opinions.

Advisor: John Bender