Southeastern Louisiana U Criticized for Draconian Rules: No Jokes, No Cartoons, No Posters
Jokes, posters, and cartoons that “may be considered offensive” were forbidden by the authorities of a public university in Louisiana. The harassment “need not have intent to harm,” the school said. A campus watchdog group had another opinion, though, and harshly criticized the school’s speech codes.
Southeastern Louisiana University’s Discrimination & Harassment Policy states that “prohibited conduct” that can be considered “harassment” includes “offensive jokes,” “posters,” “cartoons” and “drawings.”
The school defines “harassment” broadly, to include both verbal and non-verbal conduct that “need not have intent to harm… does not have to consist of repeated incidents; and it need not be directed against a specific individual/group of individuals.”
This year, in informing people “of the degree to which free speech is curtailed at a particular institution,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE )gave the school a “Red Light” for its speech codes.
“Red Light” ratings are given to universities that have “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech,” according to FIRE’s criteria.
Laura Beltz, FIRE’s Senior Program Officer, said that the school has earned a “Red Light” rating every year since 2009, when the organization started grading university speech policies. Beltz, who was not aware of any students who have recently been disciplined for violating the school’s speech policies, pointed out that this does not mean the policies are dormant or harmless.
“It’s important to remember that, even when not enforced, policies that restrict constitutionally protected expression have an impermissible chilling effect on speech. To use two policies at Southeastern Louisiana as an example, students may be discouraged from expressing themselves if they read a policy that requires registration of expressive activities a full seven days in advance, or one that calls things like ‘offensive jokes’ punishable harassment,” Beltz told.
According to Beltz, in spite of being informed of its consistent “Red Light” status, the university “has not been in contact with FIRE about its speech codes.”
The College Fix, a Student Free Press Association, also reached out to Southeastern Louisiana University’s public relations office, as well as Gene Pregeant, the school’s Equal Employment Opportunity and Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Officer, but received no responses to its queries.
The school’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy states that the university “is committed to maintaining an educational and workplace environment free of any type of discrimination and/or harassment which is illegal and which will not be tolerated.”
According to FIRE’s 2019 Report, nearly 30% of schools in its database earned a “Red Light” rating. The group’s “Yellow Light” rating, which is given to schools that “restrict expression that is protected under First Amendment standards, and invite administrative abuse” was assigned to 61.2% of schools.
The organization’s “Green Light” rating, which is awarded to institutions that “do not seriously threaten protected expression,” is currently given to just 45 schools.