CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marshall University plans to take a "hard look" at its speech policies after a Philadelphia-based foundation criticized the school for having outdated, restrictive rules.
Last month, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, gave Marshall its "Speech Code of the Month" designation for what foundation official Samantha Harris says are restrictive speech codes that prohibit a "staggering amount of constitutionally protected speech."
The organization's mission is to defend free speech rights, legal equality, religious freedom and due process rights on American college campuses, according to its website.
Last week, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff named Marshall as one of "The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech" on The Huffington Post website.
The foundation did not turn their attention toward Marshall after any particular actions or cases that occurred on campus, but for the university's actual policies, said Robert Shibley, the group's senior vice president.
"If we are restricting free speech, we're going to take a hard look at it and not take it lightly," said Steve Hensley, dean of student affairs at Marshall.
On Monday, Hensley met with other members of a student conduct and welfare committee to talk about free speech issues.
Meanwhile, Student Judicial Officer Lisa Martin is attending a conference of the national Association of Student Judicial Affairs, where she's asking whether other colleges and universities are amending their student codes of conduct, Hensley said.
Administrators at Marshall are not against amending their code, but want certain safety protections to remain in place, he said. For instance, an ex-boyfriend would not be allowed to follow or incessantly call, text, e-mail or otherwise harass his former girlfriend, and then hide behind his right to free speech, he said.
Students also are not allowed to make remarks in class that disrupt the learning environment, he said.
Hensley defends a case from last spring, where one male student was sanctioned and required to perform community service. Members of the Lambda organization, a group friendly to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, wrote a message in chalk on campus that announced an upcoming meeting.
The student saw the chalk and "defaced and erased" Lambda's message by writing a slur against gays.
"We disagreed with him philosophically and he thought his rights were being denied and we didn't think they were being denied," Hensley said.
The student did not simply write his own message -- which would probably be considered free speech -- but defaced Lambda's chalk message, he said.