The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) published a press release about possible censorship by administrators at the University of California. Last week, the University of California cautioned students against the use of the term “Chinese virus.”
According to a report by the College Fix, FIRE is pushing back against efforts by universities and colleges to impose politically correct speech codes on students.
Breitbart News reported last week that the University of California released a set of “guidelines” that were written to deter students from using politically incorrect language during the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. Now, First Amendment advocacy groups like FIRE are concerned that universities and colleges are stifling free expression.
In a press release, FIRE argued that the University of California potentially violates the First Amendment rights of its students when it prohibits speech. FIRE claims that speech guidelines often encourage students to self-censor.
The UC System is a public university system bound by the First Amendment. As a government actor, it may not prohibit protected speech, no matter its intention in doing so. Statements like these directives impermissibly chill protected expression, as students and faculty may self-censor for fear of crossing a line they cannot see.
However, FIRE went on to encouraged the University of California to continue to stimulate debate on the use of language during a global pandemic. FIRE encouraged the University of California to reference recent statements by organizations like the CDC that they believe expands rather than limits the discourse on the use of controversial language.
UC may certainly take a “more speech” approach to addressing inclusivity on its campus during this unprecedented moment in history. It may educate students on the effects of discourse surrounding the novel coronavirus, as other government actors have. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, for example, both provide guidance on the best practices for disease-naming, as well as information about why COVID-19 was so named. Both organizations explain why they have concluded that avoiding associating a disease with its nation of origin is an important part of ensuring broader public health. UC and other public universities that now confront similar questions may do the same. They may not, however, appear to ban speech outright. To that end, the University of California System should revise this document to clarify that students and faculty will not be punished for protected expression.
Stay tuned to Breitbart News for more updates on this story.