November 29, 2023

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K-State Earns Green Light for Free Speech

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Kansas State University earned a green light from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE rates colleges and universities based on their speech codes. A green light indicates the university or college’s policies do not seriously imperil free speech.

K-State’s green light is the 33rd of the 450 universities and colleges FIRE ranks. The Manhattan university earned the designation by adopting a free speech policy that affirmed its commitment to free expression.

K-State is the only school in Kansas to receive a green light from FIRE. Fort Hays State University, Wichita State University, and Pittsburg State University are yellow light schools, while the University of Kansas earned a red light.

A red light indicates a university has at least one policy that “clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech,” FIRE says. KU earned a red light for its sexual harassment policies, which calls unwanted jobs, unwelcoming comments and repartee, and telling lewd jokes among other things, as sexual harassment.

The University of Missouri, Columbia campus, is a yellow light school, according to FIRE. Yellow light schools have policies that are more restrictive of speech or protected expression. Schools that ban posters with references to drugs or alcohols would receive a yellow light, according to FIRE, because such a ban “unambiguously restricts free speech on the basis of content and viewpoint, but its scope is very limited.”

Mizzou received a yellow based on its speech and conduct policies related to bullying, bias and hate speech, harassment, tolerance, respect, civility and posting and distribution policies.

Kansas State University joins a growing list of colleges and universities that have adopted free speech policy statements that closely mirror the University of Chicago’s “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression,” better known as the “Chicago Statement.” Kansas State University’s version expands upon the Chicago Statement, acknowledging not only that “the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict,” but also that “some individuals’ ideas will even conflict with the University’s values and principles.”

Cheryl Strecker, general counsel for K-State, said the green light is an important moment for K-State.

“We are committed to our values of inclusion, diversity, anti-discrimination and

Kansas State University has earned a green light from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for its commitment to free speech on campus.

nonviolence. At the same time, our principles and policies reflect the university’s longstanding commitment to free speech, a commitment that now is also formally expressed in our Statement on Free Speech and Expression,” she said. I hope that we can serve as a leader on this front as we and other institutions face the challenges of our day.”

In August, Strecker informed FIRE not only that the university had reworded its policies, but also that it had adopted a robust statement of commitment to free speech.

The K-State statement further provides that freedom of speech is “one of our most cherished rights, protected by the United States Constitution. Without unwavering protection of that right, our society would suffer, and the vulnerable in our society would suffer the most. Progress such as civil rights movements and the resulting gains would not be possible.”

FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

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