Florida university restricts speech that creates an 'offensive' campus environment
The University of West Florida Student Code of Conduct provides vague definitions of what constitutes 'harm' to students, raising concerns over free speech rights.
FIRE’s Director of Policy Reform, Laura Beltz, told Campus Reform the effect of UWF’s policy is that 'any person's subjective view of what is...offensive can be punished by the administration.'
The University of West Florida (UWF) Student Code of Conduct provides vague definitions of what constitutes “harm” to students, raising concerns over free speech rights.
According to the Code, harm punishable by the university can include “[c]onduct that creates an intimidating, intolerable, or offensive campus, educational or working environment for another person, unrelated to the victim’s protected class, if any.”
Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) raised concerns regarding UWF’s Code of Conduct in April of 2021. The university's regulations have not been changed.
FIRE’s Director of Policy Reform, Laura Beltz, recently told Campus Reform that the effect of UWF’s policy is that “any person's subjective view of what is harmful and intolerable or offensive can be punished by the administration.”
“That means that if a particularly sensitive person thinks an offensive joke was harmful, the person who made the joke could be punished,” Beltz continued.
UWF is not the first university to have vague, and potentially unconstitutional, student regulations regarding speech and expression.
On July 20, for example, Campus Reform reported on the University of Miami’s Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook for having unclear definitions of “what counts as ‘harm’ and ‘harassment’ when it comes to speech.”
UM’s handbook states that “‘[u]nwelcomed and/or discriminatory words or acts, whether intentional or a product of the disregard for the safety, rights, or welfare of others, which intimidate, degrade, demean, threaten, bully, haze or otherwise interfere with another person’s daily activity” all count as harm/harassment.
When the policy is violated, any UM student can be punished for harm/harassment whether their remarks are intentional or unintentional.
Campus Reform contacted the University of West Florida and FIRE for a comment. This article will be updated accordingly.