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UVM student rights rated

Published: Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Updated: Friday, November 8, 2013 15:11

Fire Codes

Designed by Ashlin Ballif

When it comes to protecting first amendment rights, UVM received a yellow-light ranking based on its policies regarding codes of conduct, according to the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) 2013 report. 

A yellow-light ranking means that the University has one or more policies that “too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application,” the FIRE website stated.

“Our spotlight rankings rate how well policies protect free speech,” FIRE’s Associate Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Azhar Majeed said. “These ratings aren’t based on actual cases of violation, but on how the policies as they are written affect free speech.”

FIRE ranks universities using a red, yellow or green light system. 

According to a memorandum that was released by FIRE, the three policies that earned UVM its yellow light ranking are the Sexual Harassment Policy concerning students, the Student Alcohol and Drug Policy and the Bias Incidents Protocol. 

The Sexual Harassment Policy restricts First Amendment rights by not clearly defining sexual harassment “for student-on-student (or peer) hostile environment harassment in the educational setting as set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States,” the memorandum stated.

It goes on to state the Student Alcohol and Drug Policy “untenably bans any ‘demeaning sexual or discriminatory portrayals of individuals’…[and] restricts a wide swath of constitutionally protected speech, as much speech that is ‘demeaning,’ for example, is protected by the First Amendment.”

Finally, it states UVM’s Bias Incidents Protocol inefficiently defines bias. “After all, banning all ‘actions that are motivated by bias’ but do not constitute a crime encompasses a great deal of expression protected by the First Amendment,” according to the memorandum.

Senior and President of the Young Americans for Liberty Club at UVM, Christian Matthews said the club was created for students that associate with political beliefs other than left. 

“Young Americans for Liberty chose to work with FIRE because they defend rights and give analysis of what’s wrong with certain policies,” he said.

Matthews said the group worked with FIRE in order to see an analysis of what is restrictive within UVM’s policies.

“If we don’t protect the most hateful, vitriol speech, than what do we protect?” he said. “I think it’s hypocritical that the University chooses to protect certain areas but not others.”

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