The Volokh Conspiracy

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Emory University gets "green-light" free-speech rating from FIRE


The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has given Emory University a "green light" status for its commitment to free speech and open expression on campus. The press release is reproduced below. Emory is one of only 37 universities nationwide to have that status, and the only one in Georgia. (Here's a list of all the green-light universities. The list includes Chicago, Penn, UVA, Duke, William & Mary, George Mason, UT Knoxville, Carnegie Mellon, Florida, Maryland-College Park, Purdue, Arizona State, Oregon State, and various UNC campuses.)

It makes sense that Emory should be a green-light campus, because for the last five years, it's been governed by the Respect for Open Expression Policy. That policy is interpreted and administered by the University Senate's Committee for Open Expression, which I'm the chair of. Over the last few years, the Committee for Open Expression has interpreted the policy both informally and through a series of formal opinions, for instance our first one, where we defended the Open Expression rights of Emory Students for Justice in Palestine, and our second one, where we opined on the Donald Trump chalkings and related incidents. (Our more recent opinions can be found here and here.)

So, perhaps for some schools, earning a green light involves pushing back against some restrictive speech codes—but at Emory, it was really just a matter of cleaning up stray, outdated, or mistaken language. In my experience, Emory officials, from the president on down, have been very supportive of campus free speech, the Open Expression policy, and the work of the Committee. These changes were made because, once we became aware of problems with our policy language, there was broad consensus for making the necessary changes. (FIRE was the group that originally brought these problems to our attention, but anyone can do that. Personally, I like FIRE's work, I have several friends on the staff and on the board of directors, and I've even contributed to them occasionally—but I understand that not everyone may feel the same way.)

In any event, I'm glad about our green-light rating, and I hope that other schools follow suit.

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ATLANTA, Dec. 5, 2017 - Emory University has removed language from its policies that chilled free expression on campus, earning it the highest, "green light" rating for free speech on campus from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

After working to ensure that the policies across all of its departments reflect the university's commitment to free speech, Emory has become the first green light institution in the state of Georgia - and just the 37th institution nationwide to earn FIRE's most favorable rating.

"We are excited to welcome Emory to the ranks of green light institutions," said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. "As one of only 37 schools in the country to earn a green light rating from FIRE, Emory is now positioned to become a national leader in protecting free speech on campus."

To earn its green light rating, Emory revised its undergraduate conduct code, as well as policies governing campus bias incidents and the use of information technology resources. FIRE worked on the changes with Alexander "Sasha" Volokh, chair of Emory's Open Expression Committee and a professor at Emory University School of Law.

"Once these policies were brought to our attention, everyone basically agreed that it was a matter of mistaken or outdated language that did not reflect the values of Emory's Open Expression Policy," Volokh said. "The credit really belongs to Emory's administrators, from President Claire Sterk on down, who strongly support open expression on campus - as well as to the University Senate that adopted the Open Expression Policy five years ago."

"It was a pleasure to work with Emory on these revisions," said FIRE Vice President of Policy Research Samantha Harris. "We hope other institutions both in Georgia and across the country will follow Emory's lead and adopt policies that fully protect students' free speech rights."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America's college campuses.


Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

Alexander "Sasha" Volokh, Emory Law School: 626-354-4581;