First Amendment and rights in Colleges and Universities

FirstAmendment and rights in Colleges and Universities


Freedomof speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment and any restrictionsby institutions of higher learning limit educational diversity andacademic freedom.

TheBill of Rights is a fundamental part of the United StatesConstitution that protects every American citizen from oppression bythe federal government. Every citizen is privileged to all the rightsstipulated in that section of the constitution. The First Amendmentcomprises of many freedoms enjoyed by the people of America such asthe right to practice religion, the freedom of the press, the rightto appeal to the government for some injustices incurred, the rightto gather peacefully and the freedom of speech. The freedom of speechessentially grants every citizen the right to express their views andopinions without any adverse implications or consequences. Thegovernment cannot infringe on this freedom except for cases wheresuch a right can cause harm to other individuals or the whole nationin general. The institutions of learning in the United States providea hub where free expression of ideas is ideally encouraged andpromoted. In contrary, most of these colleges and universities tendto control and monitor this free communication from the students asthey fear controversy especially when students question authority orsome policies that the students might find do not work in their bestinterests. University Senates and other bodies that govern suchinstitutions tend to prohibit some views and opinions and only letthem be expressed in specifically allocated areas. “Thisdictatorial act is akin to gross abuse of the rights that thestudents need to enjoy” (Campus Rights). This paper will handle theissue of the first amendment in the institutions of learning and thefreedoms that are infringed upon the top of which is the freedom ofspeech.

Freedomof speech is required for establishing an appropriate learningenvironment

Collegesand universities are essentially areas where diverse ideas and viewsare highly encouraged. This ability of free expression of opinionsaims at advancing the education of a student by opening them to aworld of different views and opinions. When differing ideas arethrown around by students, the topic or subject that is underdiscussion will be better understood, and most of the studentsparticipating in that discussion will have a better grasp on thefundamental concepts of the subject. When it comes to a situationwhere such a basic right as the right of speech is restricted, itwill work against the educational progress that the institutionsupposedly tries to enhance. When the students and members of thefaculty begin fearing repercussions that might result from theirexpress of differing opinions, they tend to shut themselves in.“Eventually, innovation becomes affected and thus furtherdevelopment is impaired” (Campus Rights). However, the freedom ofspeech can work for or against creating a suitable learningenvironment. The examples below show these two different sides.

Freespeech progresses the learning capabilities by giving every studentan equal opportunity to share their ideas. These ideas might be trueor false overall, such an environment helps the students to feelsafe and willing to participate. Participation is one of the keyfactors that can help any student understand the concepts that arebeing taught in a classroom.

Onthe contrary, the freedom of speech can work against promoting a goodenvironment for learning. This situation comes about when somestudents might use such a chance to express their opinions tobelittle others. Students that experience such demeaning acts maytend to have crushed self-esteem and completely shut themselves offfrom the world. They will thus be unable to learn properly in suchenvironments.

Onthe contrary, the liberty to share opposing opinions about a matterhelps build a better educational surrounding by giving the lecturer awider span of knowledge that he or she can share with the students.“All this information can create a positive impact on a student’slearning outcomes by giving them life skills that were not even partof the coursework” (Protecting Academic Freedom).

However,freedom of speech can negatively impact the learning environment bycreating situations where a lecturer can speak their mind in a waythat some members of the class might find offensive. These studentswill shut off the lecturer and refrain from listening to whateverthey have to say.

Unrestrictedfreedom of speech promotes diversity in universities with diversepopulations

Whenthe freedom of speech is unrestricted, diversity within universitiesthat have diverse student bodies becomes highly promoted. “Studentsand members of the staff will find an easy time to express theirdiversity without any fear of retribution or judgment” (CampusRights). This act will boost diversity and cohesion among thesediverse groups. Nevertheless, where there is no prohibition on freespeech, the effect can be to encourage or discourage diversity. Theexamples below explain this point.

Freedomof expression encourages diversity. An example is the LGBT community.Such a group will thrive and grow in a learning institution thatsupports their views and opinions. “The LGBT can communicate thechallenges that they face within the university, and these issues areresolved within no time” (Campus Rights).

Freespeech, on the other hand, can hinder diversity. Some people withinthe university might decide to speak out against a specific race orgroup. Such people will be within their rights to express theirviews. However, the impact will be to curtail diversity as the raceor group spoken against will feel threatened and they will secludethemselves from open interaction with other people. Thus, this actwill hinder diversity.

Theliberty to openly share ideas and views can promote diversity. “Auniversity that actively encourages the practice of this right isguaranteed to have diverse opinions and views from all members withinits environs” (Campus Rights). This environment that supportsdiffering opinions and views will conclusively promote diversity.

Onthe other hand, free speech can create a bad environment fordiversity. Diversity only works when all members of the universitytolerate the views and opinions of others. However, free speech canresult in conflicts and confrontations once a certain group sharessome opinions that might be offensive to other people within thepopulation without meaning to. This situation will create hostilitythat will end up working against the growth of diversity within theinstitution.

Freedomof speech should be distinguished from criminal activities

Freedomis at times associated with criminal activities. “In universities,this situation comes about when some students incite others toprotest against some policies using violence and other acts of afelony such as arson and vandalism” (Hate Speech on Campus). Someuniversities, therefore, tend to see the freedom of speech as one ofthe main catalysts to encouraging criminal activities. Changing thisview of the freedom of speech can have some positive or negativeimpacts as shown by the examples below.

Oncefreedom of speech is differentiated from criminal activities, mostgoverning bodies will be able to support this right. Students andmembers of the staff will enjoy the full benefits that result frompracticing this fundamental freedom of expression.

“Onthe other hand, as soon as free speech is separated from criminalactivities, some students with evil intentions will use thisopportunity to provoke some form of anarchy within the institution inan attempt to create chaos and mayhem” (Hate Speech on Campus).

Freespeech being part of the Constitution should not be associated withacts of felonies. This situation will help build a betterunderstanding of the students of their rights and how they can beresponsible for handling them in a way that will not adversely affectthe freedoms of others.

“Nevertheless,distinguishing free speech from criminal acts can create anenvironment where some students within the university will feel thatthey can say whatever they chose to voice out” (Hate Speech onCampus). Such words can be inflammatory or extremely prejudiced tothe point where tension can develop within different groups in theuniversity and might result in violent conflict.

Unrestrictedfreedom of speech raises social and political development in collegesand universities

Forthe social and political development to progress in a learninginstitution, the right to expression should have no restrictions.When the practice of this freedom is openly encouraged, the studentsand faculty members will have an opportunity to develop personalrelationships that are the main foundation of society. “Thestudents will also have an opportunity of learning more about theConstitution and other political aspects that can help furtherdevelop their knowledge” (First Amendment Protections on PublicColleges and University Campuses). Regardless of this fact, such freespeech can also work both ways.

Anexample that helps develop social and political development throughfree speech is when students have open forums where they can sharetheir outlooks on social behaviors and some of its aspects that seemto be controversial. The students can also express their politicalopinions and support them with the facts they have.

Onthe other hand, free speech can impair social and politicaldevelopment when students decide to express opinions that areslanderous or even politically incorrect. Such baseless opinions workagainst this development.

Anotheradvantage of freedom of expression to social and political progressoccurs when students have the ability to share their political viewswhile campaigning for a seat in the students’ council. “Here,free speech enables the student body to consider different candidatesbefore deciding on which one they will elect” (First AmendmentProtections on Public Colleges and University Campuses). Thisexercise creates an understanding of how the political systemoperates and becomes the basis on how they will participate in thenational polls.

Adisadvantage of free speech to social and political advancementarises when the students’ politics turns to dirty tricks that worksolely on mudslinging and defamation. These acts will eventually ruinthe basic principles that democracy stands for.

Universitiesand colleges are not islands

Thisterm tries to show that all learning institutions are not closed offfrom the outside world. This fact is apparent with the current stateof the information technology. “Students can access informationfrom across the world and also share their views and opinions usingthe social media platforms” (First Amendment Centre). The governingbodies of the universities should, therefore, impact the skills andknowledge that can help students learn how to express their opinionssince the same students interact with the outside world. The examplesbelow illustrate the different impacts that result from freedom ofspeech in universities with the outside world.

Studentscan share ideas and information within the university. Such ideas canbe original or based on some information that these students obtainedfrom the internet or other communication sites. This situation buildsa strong learning foundation as the students develop research skills.

“Theinternet can provide controversial information. An example is astudent that locates an article which states that the Holocaust is amyth” (First Amendment Centre). This student will go ahead andbring such information to other students some of whom will be highlyoffended by this claim.

Anadvantage of freedom of speech and the outside world interaction isthat the students will have the knowhow of handling arguments about asubject using ideas that have a factual basis and is in no wayoffensive to other people.

Theoutside world can provide offensive information and materials such aspornography. “Since these students will feel that they have theright to express themselves, they can share such materials and upsetother members within the school” (First Amendment Centre).


TheFirst Amendment is an important part of the Constitution that everystudent should fully understand. The basic rights of the studentsespecially the freedom of speech plays a crucial role in creating abetter learning environment, it enhances diversity within theuniversity and leads to social and political development. The freedomof speech should, therefore, be disassociated with criminal acts asit is a fundamental right that the students should enjoy. However,the ability to practice these rights should be taught to the studentsto ensure that the freedoms are not used improperly. Any right that astudent is entitled to should in no way infringe upon the rights ofother students.


FirstAmendment Centre. on 1 March 2016 at 10:30pm.

CampusRights. on 1 March 2016 at 10:20pm.

ProtectingAcademic Freedom. on 1 March 2016 at 10:00pm.

FirstAmendment Protections on Public Colleges and University Campuses. on 1 March 2016 at 10:10pm.

HateSpeech on Campus. Retrieved on 1 March 2016 at 10:05pm.