- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 21, 2016

Free-speech advocates are lauding a decision by Southwest Minnesota State University to revise a ban that had prohibited “cultural intolerance.”

Samantha Harris, a spokeswoman with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a First Amendment advocacy group, told The College Fix website Wednesday that her group has rescinded the “red light” rating awarded previously to the university in response to a “cultural intolerance” ban that became a hot-button topic last year.

The liberal arts college in Marshall had until recently prohibited “any verbal or physical contact directed at an individual or group such as racial slurs, jokes or other behaviors that demean or belittle a person’s race, color, gender preference, national origin, culture, history or disability.”

As of this week, however, The College Fix — a self-described news and commentary site dedicated to higher education — reported that the provision has been revised, and that the school’s Prohibited Code of Conduct no longer includes the term “cultural tolerance.”

Instead, the school has replaced it with a prohibition on “discriminatory harassment,” defined as “verbal or physical conduct that is directed at an individual because of his or her protected class, and that is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent so as to have the purpose or effect of creating a hostile work or educational environment.”

The college “still has some policies that limit students’ expressive rights (such as a policy requiring advanced reservation for ‘expressive activities’ sponsored by student organizations), [but] the cultural intolerance policy was the most restrictive policy on the books,” Ms. Harris told the website.

“As a result of the revision, therefore, SMSU no longer earns FIRE’s worst ‘red light’ rating for free speech — instead the university received an improved (but still undesirable) yellow light rating,” she said.

FIRE raised concerns over the school’s policy last year, calling it “unconstitutional” when it profiled the college on its “Speech Code of the Month” feature in November.

If “students’ free speech rights exist only at the mercy of the most sensitive members of the university community, then meaningful debate becomes impossible,” Ms. Harris said at the time.

More than half of the schools profiled by FIRE through its “Speech Code of the Month” feature have since revised their policies, Ms. Harris told The College Fix.

The school did not immediately return the website’s request for comment.

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