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The color of freedom is red on the Farm, says report

In its annual report on campus free-speech policies, the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) ranked Stanford as a “red-light” school on the grounds of “serious and substantial restriction on freedom of speech.”

(ANASTASIA YEE/The Stanford Daily)

The report, which ranks 390 universities according to their on-campus freedoms, put 67 percent of all universities into the red-light category, with 27 percent receiving a yellow light and 3 percent receiving a green light. Another 3 percent went unranked.

For the third year in a row, trends show that universities are becoming more free and tolerant, according to the organization, which says its mission is to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.”

Stanford received a red-light ranking because, FIRE said, the University required visitors enter a SUNet ID and password to view its speech policy on the use of White Plaza. The ranking organization handed two other universities red-light rankings for the same reason. The New York-based nonprofit decries such actions as deceptive, claiming they deny “prospective students and parents the ability to weigh this crucial information.”

FIRE’s report included a screenshot from Stanford’s old Student Activities and Leadership (SAL) website requiring login information. In June 2010, the organization found the site password-protected, said Samantha Harris, director of speech-code research for FIRE.

But Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman noted in an e-mail to The Daily that Stanford’s White Plaza usage policy is, in fact, accessible to the public without any password-requirements. Snehal Naik, associate director of SAL, added that though Stanford has changed some of its websites’ designs since last year, the policy has always been public.

“It’s never been password protected through WebAuth before,” Naik said. “The website may look different, but it’s always been open to the public.”

Boardman said he agrees with FIRE that prospective students and parents should be able to read Stanford’s policies before deciding whether or not to attend, and that he would follow up this issue with FIRE to resolve their conflicting accounts.

Harris said now that the site is not password-protected, she plans on reviewing the ranking.

Last year, Stanford would have received a yellow-light ranking if not for the password issue. Though Harris said she can’t formally upgrade Stanford’s ranking until she reviews all of the University’s polices, she is “hopeful” that she will be able to upgrade the Farm’s ranking at some point.

FIRE gave the green light to Stanford’s policies regarding sexual harassment and network and website terms of use. It gave the yellow light to policies regarding the Acts of Intolerance Protocol and the Fundamental Standard.

The Acts of Intolerance ranking was because of the University’s policy language regarding intolerant behavior, which the group called vague. Though students may not be expelled or officially punished for intolerant speech that doesn’t qualify as a hate crime, they may be disciplined through educational means if they fail to respect “order, morality, personal honor and the rights of others,” in the words of the University’s Fundamental Standard.

The password-protected speech policy issue was the only red-light ranking Stanford received in the report, making an upgrade of status seem likely. According to Harris, the review should be done by midday on Friday.

About Brendan O'Byrne

Brendan is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously he was the executive editor, the deputy editor, a news desk editor and a writer for the news section. He's a history major originally from New Orleans.
  • FIRE?

    I have a feeling that FIRE is still upset with Stanford over the controversy with a student in the education school’s STEP program (google it if you didn’t hear–some of the ed school admins really should be fired).

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