Date of Award

Fall 1991

Degree Type

Thesis - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Scotton, James F.

Second Advisor

Salsini, Paul

Third Advisor

Gribbin, August


Speech codes have been established within the past few years at more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin. The codes are a reaction to the marked rise in incidents of hate speech and violence among various ethnic, racial and social groups on college campuses today. Speech codes have been implemented to protect the feelings of minorities and to ensure a sense of educational equality on campuses that are marred by racial tension. The philosophy of political correctness also is related to the implementation of speech codes. Political correctness, a new orthodoxy on college campuses, aims to rid society of racism, sexism and intolerance of minority groups. The implementation of speech codes raises questions about First Amendment rights and the traditional role of the university as a place where discourse is open and students are free to examine and express a wide range of ideas. As speech codes have proliferated, students are increasingly being censured for making remarks that can be considered racist, sexist or classist. Students have received punishments that range from writing letters of apology to being expelled from school. Supporters of speech codes cite several arguments in favor of restricting hate speech. Their main argument is based on the "fighting words" standard established in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (315 U. S. 568). The Supreme Court ruled in this 1942 case that it is legal to ban words that "by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace." Speech code advocates also cite bans on offensive expression as a method of ensuring a setting that is conducive to education. The American civil Liberties Union opposes speech codes, noting that restricting expression abridges students Constitutional rights and imposes a chilling effect on academic freedom and discourse. Opponents of speech codes claim that colleges and universities must fulfill their traditional role: fostering inquiry, discussion and free thought. They cite the Supreme Court's ruling in Keyishian v. Board of Regents (385 U.S. 589) that the classroom is "peculiarly the marketplace of ideas." Speech code opponents favor educational efforts as a means of countering violence and hate speech. They claim that education will create tolerance and understanding among diverse ethnic, racial and social groups. To examine the Constitutional questions raised by the implementation of speech codes, this thesis draws on interpretations of the First Amendment and significant legal cases relating to freedom of speech. After a legal and historical examination, this thesis discusses the speech codes at the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin. This thesis offers an analysis of First Amendment rights, as well as the arguments for and against speech codes. Potential solutions also are presented.



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