College administrator to lawyer: Draft a policy that I can use against any student or instructor who annoys me.
(20 minutes later)
Lawyer to administrator: You’re gonna love this.
Even by the standards of college speech codes, the University of Colorado-Denver has a mind-numbingly stupid and blatantly unconstitutional policy on email you’re allowed to send through the campus IT system.
The taxpayer-funded university is featured as the Speech Code of the Month by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It earned a “red light,” the worst rating, in FIRE’s speech code database solely because of the email policy.
Here’s the first section under “Restrictions”:
Do NOT use email:
a. To create, send, forward or store emails with messages or attachments that might be illegal or considered offensive by an ordinary member of the public. (e.g., sexually explicit, racist, defamatory, abusive, obscene, derogatory, discriminatory, threatening, harassing or otherwise offensive).
Here’s another stunningly overbroad prohibition:
e. To send any disruptive, offensive, unethical, illegal or otherwise inappropriate matter, including offensive comments about race, gender, color, disability, age, sexual orientation, pornography, terrorism, religious beliefs and practice, political beliefs or national origin, hyperlinks or other references to indecent or patently offensive websites and similar materials, jokes, chain letters and hoaxes, charity requests, viruses or malicious software.
f. For any other illegal, unethical, or unauthorized purpose.
The email policy even orders students not to “store” supposedly offensive messages, meaning “they’re even on the hook for failing to immediately delete someone else’s offensive email,” Laura Beltz, senior program officer for policy reform at FIRE, notes in a blog post.
The “indecent” ban is also completely subjective, she continues: “Under CU Denver’s policy, emailing a link to Cardi B’s WAP video or even a photo of Michelangelo’s David would be punishable.” This is in contrast to “obscenity,” which has a strict legal definition.
Beltz invites CU-Denver to join the cool kids in the university system at CU-Boulder, which updated several speech codes (including its IT policy) this summer to earn FIRE’s highest “green light” rating.