The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization that advocates for free speech and intellectual freedom on college campuses, released their annual report on the state of free speech on U.S. campuses, and half of Washington state schools received a "red light" rating.
If you're a fan of the First Amendment, that's not exactly a good thing. The best FIRE ranking is a green light, followed by yellow, and then red. But Washington schools are hardly alone in their dismal support of free speech on campus: FIRE found that 9 in 10 schools surveyed have campus codes restricting free speech.
State-wide, the red light schools include Eastern Washington University, Whitman College, and the Evergreen State College. Evergreen State raised the most red flags, in part due to the school's "Social Contract," which stipulates that "individual members of the Evergreen community are responsible for protecting each other and visitors on campus from physical harm, from personal threats, and from uncivil abuse." This may sound reasonable, but while physical harm and threats aren't protected by the First Amendment, the school doesn't bother to define what constitutes "uncivil.” Besides, the courts have already ruled on this issue: In 2007, a judge federal judge held that San Francisco State University's code "mandating civility could deprive speakers of the tools they most need to connect emotionally with their audience, to move their audience to share their passion." What is civil and what is uncivil is all in the eye of the beholder.
This isn't the first time Evergreen has been criticized by FIRE. Earlier this year, the school was named one of the 10 worst public schools in the nation for free speech, largely because of the school's response to Bret Weinstein, a former Evergreen professor who, along with his wife, stepped down from their positions after being targeted by student protesters last year. At the time, FIRE wrote, "Protest is good. Calls for censorship are not." (For more on this, read my feature on Evergreen here.)
More recently, Evergreen has been debating if the school should replace the word “covenant” from official Evergreen documents with the term “community agreement,” because "covenant," according to some on campus, is offensive to Native Americans.
Other schools in the state did slightly better: Central Washington University, UW, Washington State University, and Western Washington University all received "yellow" ratings from FIRE. No state schools were rated green.