Northern Arizona University earns FIRE’s highest rating for support of free expression

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Feb. 26, 2019

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gave Northern Arizona University a “green light” for having speech policies that are compliant with the First Amendment. This rating, the organization’s highest, is held by only 45 other institutions throughout the country.

“Arizona’s green light schools are setting a standard for free expression that colleges across the country should aspire to follow,” said FIRE’s Laura Beltz, policy reform senior program officer. “We’re pleased to see NAU join an elite group of colleges that have committed to protecting students’ free speech rights.”

FIRE rates the speech policies of more than 400 of the nation’s top colleges and universities. The green light indicates a university’s written policies do not seriously imperil or restrict free speech. NAU President Rita Hartung Cheng was instrumental in prioritizing a review of university policies and the resulting green light from FIRE.

“Our university is a place of free thought, free speech and freedom of expression. We uphold these values through our policies, and our practices,” she said. “Welcoming a diversity of opinions is a fundamental aspect of the learning experience. Expressing and testing our ideas in conversation, discussing both the issues of our time and the issues of all time, being open to intellectual challenge and response and learning from each other are the hallmarks of our university community. I am thankful for FIRE’s review of our policies and their collaboration to ensure we continue to foster freedom of speech.”

Policies are just one of many ways in which NAU protects freedom of expression for the campus community. NAU’s Speech Expression Action Knowledge (SpEAK) is an interdisciplinary team that responds to free expression concerns and facilitates educational opportunities to students, staff and faculty regarding free expression.

NAU also offers several educational programs on campus related to free expression, including a “First Amendment: Free Expression on Campus” guide to provide information to students and student organizations planning events about their First Amendment rights. NAU Residence Life facilitates training to professional and student staff regarding First Amendment rights, and the Office of General Counsel offers an annual educational opportunity to faculty who are interested in information about the First Amendment and freedom of expression.

According to FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2019 report, only 10 percent of top institutions in the country earn a green light rating. Almost 30 percent earn an overall “red light” rating for maintaining policies that both clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech.

About FIRE

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of liberty. To learn more about the state of free speech on college campuses, see FIRE’s Spotlight database.

NAU Communications