Higher Education

Brandon Dutcher | November 25, 2016

Northwestern takes action to protect First Amendment rights

Brandon Dutcher

Free speech is a hot topic these days, especially as it relates to America’s college campuses. To see what I mean, look no further than George Will’s latest column (“Higher education is awash with hysteria. That might have helped elect Trump.”).

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonprofit organization which defends freedom of speech on college campuses. On November 1, FIRE sent a certified letter to the presidents of 111 public colleges and universities nationwide which have policies that, according to FIRE, “clearly and substantially restrict student and faculty speech on campus.”

Oklahoma State University and Northwestern Oklahoma State University were the two institutions in Oklahoma that received letters.

The specific concern at Northwestern had to do with the school’s Internet usage policies. It seems that certain behaviors—including “promoting, supporting or celebrating religion or religious institutions”—are not permitted on student email accounts on the university’s networks.

According to FIRE, “university administrators who continue to violate clearly established law with respect to expressive rights risk losing their ‘qualified immunity’—meaning they could be held personally liable for monetary damages in a student or faculty member’s lawsuit.”

“Rather than run the risk of being held personally liable,” said FIRE director of policy reform Azhar Majeed, “administrators should take this opportunity to be proactive and revise their institutions’ speech codes.”

I asked Northwestern administrators if they intend to do so. To their great credit, they do. Steven J. Valencia, Associate Vice President for University Relations, told me in an email: “Appropriate personnel have conducted an initial review of our policies regarding use of network resources and have concluded the language in question is unnecessary and will be deleted. We will work to update all documents that contain this policy.”

“The leadership of Northwestern is committed to protecting the First Amendment rights of students and employees,” he says.

Holding on to our First Amendment rights is a never-ending struggle. According to a Rasmussen survey in September, “two out of three Americans view political correctness as a threat and say they don’t have freedom of speech anymore.”

We should all be grateful for small victories, like the one at Northwestern.

Brandon Dutcher Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher

Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s senior vice president. Originally an OCPA board member, he joined the staff in 1995. Dutcher received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oklahoma. He received a master’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public policy from Regent University. Dutcher is listed in the Heritage Foundation Guide to Public Policy Experts, and is editor of the book Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His award-winning articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine,,, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S. He and his wife, Susie, have six children and live in Edmond.

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