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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Texas A&M updates policy language to receive high ranking

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is an organization that promotes freedom of speech at higher learning institutions.
Photo by via Facebook Page

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is an organization that promotes freedom of speech at higher learning institutions.

Changes made to Texas A&M policies involving freedom of speech are rated favorably by The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
FIRE is an organization that promotes freedom of speech at higher learning institutions. In a protected speech report released in December 2019 by FIRE, A&M was ranked with a “green light” grading in regards to policies surrounding free speech.
FIRE uses three ratings when grading the policies of public universities and colleges: red light, yellow light and green light. Red light is used for institutions who have one or more policies that greatly restrict freedom of speech, according to FIRE. Yellow light is the rating for schools that have policies that could potentially restrict protective speech. Green light is reserved for institutions with policies that don’t suppress freedom of speech.
According to FIRE’s Spotlight On Speech Codes 2020, A&M went from a yellow light rating for the year 2017-2018 to a green light rating for the year 2018-2019. Out of the 417 universities and colleges reviewed, 24.2 percent were given a red light rating and 63.9 percent were rated as yellow light institutions. Only 10.6 percent were given the green light rating, and A&M is the only university in Texas to receive the favorable rating.
In an email to The Battalion, Vice President for Student Affairs Daniel Pugh said universities should be open communities with freedom of expression, and A&M is concerned with all five freedoms under the First Amendment, not just freedom of speech.
“The history of American higher education success is predicated on the exploration of ideas that has been responsible for the majority of our nation’s advancements in thought and science,” Pugh said. “The entire concept of ‘tenure’ is based on protecting the scholar so their research and scholarship can advance without threat to their position.”
The reason for A&M’s previous yellow light rating was due to an evaluation on nine policies, Pugh said. Five of those policies were green; however, four policies regarding housing, computer use, bias response and registration were rated yellow.
“FIRE was a tremendous partner is helping us identify existing policies that were more clear in their expression,” Pugh said. “After we resolved those four, an additional was found. That policy regarding solicitation on campus was actually under review and we were able to quickly resolve the language for clarity.”
Dean of Student Life Anne Reber said while there is an assumption that universities are able to control their students, that assumption goes against the constitutional rights students have. Control of speech goes against the purpose of public institutions and her own responsibilities, Reber said.
“There is often an expectation as a university administrator that I can control the speech of students,” Reber said. “I see my responsibility to be protective of our students’ rights to free speech, but also to help educate them on the responsibility of this right, especially when the speech can be offensive.”
Reber said the university wanted to have an environment where individuals could express their ideas and have ideas challenged respectfully. Because of this, A&M worked with FIRE in order to modify language used in some of the campus policies in order to achieve a green light rating.
“The green light is certainly a testament to the university’s desire to ensure that our students are supported in their First Amendment rights [and] that their voices are being heard,” Reber said. “I’m thrilled that we have this green light rating at this point. We’re especially excited that we’re the only institution in the state of Texas, at this point in time, to have the green light rating.”
Pugh said there are a large number of gatherings held on campus throughout the year. With these policy changes, the university hopes to provide an adequate environment for students and their gatherings.
“Last year, our campus had nearly 30,000 events, activities, meetings, gatherings, etc. in the Rudder Complex without incident or coverage,” Pugh said. “Each of those being held by students or student organizations was an expression of their First Amendment right to assemble and speak.”

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