Committee members want to make students aware of speech code



Published: Monday, January 31, 2011

Updated: Monday, January 31, 2011

A student rights organization wrote an article about Marshall University's speech codes that has administrators wondering if it is time to update the code of conduct.

The Student Conduct and Welfare Committee met Monday to discuss the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's accusation that Marshall's speech code, especially standard three, violate First Amendment freedoms.

Standard three refers to Marshall students and student groups respecting and honoring the human rights and dignity of other persons, groups and organizations.

"Free speech is hard to define and it is very admired at our institution," said Steve Hensley, dean of student affairs. "Nobody wants to repress free speech. Professors love and admire free speech, and our institution is built on it."

Director of Judicial Affairs Lisa Martin will attend the Association of Student Judicial Affairs conference in Florida from Wednesday until Sunday to learn what other institutions are doing about outdated speech codes.

"I am interested to see if any institution has amended its speech codes because Marshall's codes date back to about 1985 or so," Hensley said.

Hensley said he wants Martin to see if there is a movement toward creating a more accepting and less defiant code of conduct.

"There is an issue of prevailing community standards, and certain words that you hear in one location may not be appropriate in the classroom," Hensley said.

Martin said grievances are not usually filed under standard three.

"Usually, issues only arise when people feel targeted as a group, and only a couple citations have been issued over the last three years," Martin said.

Committee members discussed ways to inform students of the speech code so they are aware of what it says.

"One trend in the College of Education that has developed in the past 10 years is putting central justice statements in the syllabus," said Kathy Seelinger, an education professor. "They say students are allowed to disagree in class but must respect others through their attitude and speech."

Julio Alves, music professor and chairman of the committee, said most students are unaware of the code of conduct and what it says about what is expected of a student's behavior.

   "A good starting point for us would be to create a strategy to clearly tell students how they are expected to act in order to civilly promote a healthy environment inside the campus," Alves said.

   Dale Shao, an information systems professor, said the code of conduct should be integrated into Marshall's orientation process.

   "If students listen and have open discussions during orientation, then they will know what the code means," Shao said. "That way, students have no excuse not to know what it says."

   The committee is scheduled to meet again Feb. 28 after Martin has returned from the ASJA conference and has had a chance to discuss a plan of action with Hensley.

   Kelley Bugler can be contacted at



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