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Speech on Washington state college campuses getting more free

A counter-protester dressed as a fisherman who said he was "fishing for fascists" holds a pole baited with a U.S. flag and some food, in front of a line of Washington state troopers during a protest in June at The Evergreen State College in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Speech codes on college campuses are actually getting less restrictive, both nationally and in Washington state.

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That’s according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Every year, they look at speech codes at campuses across the country and then grade them either a red, yellow, or green light.

“When we look at policies we rate them … depending on how much protected speech they restrict,” FIRE VP of Policy Research Samantha Harris told 770 KTTH’s Jason Rantz. “For the past ten years schools that maintain red light policies has declined. This year it was an all-time low of 32.3 percent.”

Three out of the five largest universities in Washington state earned a yellow light rating, those were the University of Washington, Washington State University, and Central Washington University.

“We are talking generally about policies that could too easily be abused to include protected speech,” Harris said. “For example, at the University of Washington, the university defines harassment in its student conduct code to include conduct that has ‘the purpose or effect of interfering with a person’s academic or work performance.”

Although Harris said this policy isn’t technically problematic, it’s vague enough that it could be applied in problematic ways.

Some yellow light schools are better than others, though. Harris said Washington State University isn’t too far from joining only 37 other schools on the green light list.

“They’re very close to a green light rating,” Harris said. “They could make a few relatively minor changes to their sexual harassment and sexual misconduct policy and be Washington’s first green light school.”

Washington state has two schools on the red light list. One is Eastern Washington University.

“Their red light information policy prohibits anyone from sending sexually, racially or religiously offensive messages,” Harris said, “which has the potential to effect a whole lot of political and social expression simply because someone else finds it offensive.”

The other red light school, not a huge surprise, is Evergreen State University.

“When I started the sense I had was that the pressure for censorship was generally coming from the administration and something that was being imposed on the students,” Harris said. “What we see now is a lot of pressure for censorship coming from students themselves. I think what happened at Evergreen State was a great example.”

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