REPORT: University's campus speaker policy contradicts 'ideals of freedom of inquiry'

Southern New Hampshire University's policy allegedly requires prior review of campus speakers to ensure that they are not too controversial.

This policy contradicts SNHU’s support for the 'ideals of freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of the individual.'

Southern New Hampshire University's (SNHU) policy  requires prior review of campus speakers to ensure that they “are not so controversial that they would draw unwanted demonstrators," an report by the nonprofit organization Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) finds. 

When the SNHU College Republicans chapter attempted to bring a speaker to campus to offer a conservative perspective on a range of issues this year, they were reportedly told by Conferences & Event Services Senior Director Denise Morin that speakers shouldn’t be too controversial, and that SNHU “invite[s] discussion as long as it is friendly.” 

FIRE claims the policy contradicts SNHU’s official support for the “ideals of freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of the individual.”

The policy also appears to conflict with the Student Code of Conduct’s statement that the preservation of these free speech rights “requires respect of the rights of all in the community to enjoy them to the same extent.”

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In a FIRE letter sent to SNHU President Paul LeBlanc on May 18, the organization stated that “SNHU may not predicate approval or disapproval of student groups’ invited speakers upon the anticipated reactions of others, including how much controversy the speaker might spur on campus.”

In response, the university wrote a May 24 letter to FIRE stating that they are open to diverse ideas and that their policies for speakers do not violate state or federal law. 

In a follow-up letter on July 18, however, FIRE rejoined that “[the university’s] practice effectuates a heckler’s veto—encouraging campus violence and disruption against speakers with opposing views, as detractors know the institution is willing to shut down controversial viewpoints.”

FIRE concluded that SNHU’s policy would lead to fewer discussions of controversial ideas at SNHU.

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When asked for comment, FIRE told Campus Reform that “Southern New Hampshire's mandate that student groups request approval for all invited speakers to weed out those who may express controversial views violates students' expressive rights.”

“SNHU cannot speak out of both sides of its mouth, promising to respect students’ expressive rights while obstructing those same rights when speech is contentious. SNHU must rescind this policy to comply with its free speech promises,” the organization concluded.

Such policies are not isolated to just SNHU. 

Last semester, Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania installed a new policy that required all speakers to be pre-approved by the university president.

FIRE called the policy change a “brazen violation of Saint Vincent’s binding commitments to free expression and academic freedom for students and faculty.” 

Despite calls from FIRE to change these policies regarding speakers coming to campus, both SNHU and Saint Vincent College have yet to alter their policies.

Campus Reform reached out to SNHU and Saint Vincent College. This story will be updated accordingly.