American University

Location: Washington, District Of Columbia
Type: Private
Federal Circuit: 1st Circuit

Speech Code Rating

American University has been given the speech code rating Red. A red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. Read more here.

  • American University: Denial of Right to Videotape Public Events

    June 1, 2002

    American University (AU) has punished an undergraduate student journalist for videotaping a public speech by Tipper Gore. A kangaroo court at AU found the student guilty of “possession of stolen property.” Ben Wetmore was charged with seven violations of campus policy, including “theft” of Tipper Gore’s “intellectual property.” These charges came after a long history of the university targeting Wetmore for his protected speech. In a revealing response to a letter about the case, AU Vice President and University Counsel Mary E. Kennard criticized Wetmore for ignoring the University’s”admonitions”; not “;to post derogatory materials about staff on his website”—as if it […]

    » Read More

Red Light Policies

Yellow Light Policies
  • Computer Use and Copyright Policy 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies, Statement

    Prohibited actions include, but are not limited to, the following: ... using e-mail or messaging services to harass or intimidate another person (e.g., by broadcasting unsolicited messages, repeatedly sending unwanted mail, or using another individual’s
    name or user name).

    » Read More

Green Light Policies
  • Freedom of Expression Guidelines 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression, Statement

    Freedom of expression and dissent is protected by university policy for all members of the university community.

    » Read More

  • Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    [U]nwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other oral, written, or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: ... such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's performance,
    or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or academic

    » Read More

  • Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    Discriminatory harassment is defined as verbal, written, visual, or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility against a protected class when such conduct has the purpose or effect of: 1) unreasonably interfering with an individual's work or academic performance, or 2) creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, or offensive working, living, or learning environment.

    » Read More

Not Rated Policies
  • It’s Free Speech Week, and Students Are Speaking Out

    October 21, 2013

    October 21­–27 is Free Speech Week, a celebration of Americans’ First Amendment right to free expression. You can celebrate by sharing information about constitutional rights with your friends, planning a free speech event, or even speaking your mind about the news of the day. Students especially should take this week to find out just how free speech is respected on their campuses and urge their classmates and administrators to make sure this fundamental right is fully protected. In the spirit of Free Speech Week, American University (AU) student Sarah Harvard took to student newspaper The Eagle last Friday to do just that. Harvard conducted a survey of AU students that addressed their […]

    » Read More
  • FIRE President Greg Lukianoff Speaking at American University Tonight

    April 30, 2013

    FIRE President Greg Lukianoff will be on the campus of his undergraduate alma mater, American University, tonight to discuss free speech on campus and his book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. American University is a “red light” school, which means it has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of expression.   Greg’s speech is free and open to the public and will take place at 6 p.m. in Ward Hall, room #4 (4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.). The event is sponsored by the American University chapter of Students For […]

    » Read More
  • ‘The Eagle’ on How American U. Can Improve Its ‘Red Light’ Rating

    September 28, 2012

    American University (AU) is currently rated as a “red light” institution in FIRE’s Spotlight database, but it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s the message AU students should take away from an article in the campus newspaper The Eagle drawing attention to AU’s speech codes.  The Eagle‘s Maris Feeley writes that AU’s Spotlight rating is due to a Student Handbook policy that defines “harassment” (PDF) as “an intimidating, hostile, or coercive act which is intentional or persistent.” This vague and broadly phrased policy is, on its face, an ever-present threat to AU students’ freedom of speech. Though AU is […]

    » Read More
  • Free Speech Week Fallout at American University

    April 17, 2012

    Last week here on The Torch, Jaclyn penned a roundup of the Free Speech Week activities that took place nationwide during the first week of April. While the vast majority of events went off without a hitch, students at American University had a disappointing experience: Not all groups were so lucky, disappointingly. The Free Speech Wall at American University was removed by campus police without any notice between Monday night and Tuesday morning. According to AU student Alex McHugh, when the AU Students For Liberty contacted the Student Activities office (which had approved the event, and an identical one last […]

    » Read More
  • ‘Free Speech Week’ Celebrated on Campuses Nationwide

    April 13, 2012

    FIRE celebrated Free Speech Week last week by teaming up with Students For Liberty to send FIRE speakers and materials to student groups across the country. We’re pleased to announce it was a great success!   To mark the occasion, 72 student groups distributed FIRE materials and pocket-sized Constitutions on campus. More than 20 student groups also organized expressive events. Many decided to build Free Speech Walls at schools including American University, Boston University, Harvard University, Kansas State University, Winthrop University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Texas San Antonio. FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network (CFN) also worked with […]

    » Read More
  • Adam to Speak at American, Syracuse This Week

    April 13, 2011

    FIRE’s Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel will speak at two colleges this week whose recent free speech controversies have drawn FIRE’s scrutiny. Today, Adam will speak at American University (AU) in Washington, D.C. He will discuss AU’s speech codes, as well as a recent incident concerning the AU Student Government’s (AUSG’s) punishment of a student organization that had endorsed AUSG election candidates by revoking the group’s endorsement “privileges.” Then, on Thursday, Adam will address students at Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL). Syracuse earned a spot on FIRE’s “12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech” list in The Huffington Post […]

    » Read More
  • American University Says No to DOJ Grant Over Mandatory Sexual Assault Classes and Surveys

    March 30, 2011

    On the website, Amanda Hess has an interesting article about American University’s (AU’s) decision to block a campus initiative that would have made the university eligible for $300,000 in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, aimed at addressing and preventing sexual assault on campus. Why did AU do it? Here’s the key part: The proposed education program would require all new students to attend a seminar and an individualized break-out session on the topics of “healthy relationships, consent, relationship violence, stalking, sexual assault and risks correlated with increased use of drugs and alcohol.” Incoming students would also […]

    » Read More
  • Adam on American University’s New Conduct Code: Same Problem, New University

    September 17, 2010

    Much of the September 14 issue of the American University student newspaper The Eagle concerns recent revisions to AU’s “Student Conduct Code.” Of particular concern to AU students is the vague expansion of AU’s ability to punish off-campus behavior. It’s not hard to see why; the revised regulation simultaneously gives AU more authority to police off-campus behavior and gives AU students less of an idea of what may be punished. According to the new code (with emphasis on “may”): [T]he university may take disciplinary action for off-campus infractions of the Code when a student’s behavior threatens or endangers the safety […]

    » Read More
  • At American University, Newspaper Theft Goes Unpunished, and Leaves Questions About Commitment to Free Speech

    August 6, 2010

    A couple of weeks ago Adam wrote a blog post reviewing some of the most egregious acts of college press censorship from this past year. Among them was an instance of newspaper theft at American University (AU), sparked by the publication of—as is often the case with newspaper thefts—a controversial student column. Some students responded to the column, published in the independent student newspaper The Eagle, by stealing and vandalizing hundreds of issues. Unfortunately, no students—although it is now known that at least one of the perpetrators of the thefts was a student at AU—appear to have been punished or […]

    » Read More
  • Threats to Freedom of the Press on Campus, 2009-2010

    July 15, 2010

    Over at The Huffington Post, Dan Reimold provides an alarming list of violations and threats to freedom of the press on college campuses from the past academic year. FIRE was involved in several of these cases where students, administrators, or other campus officials—and in one case a county prosecutor—interfered with campus press. We reported on the massive theft of papers by the Texas A&M University football team, under the approving direction of the football coach, Guy Morriss. At the time, Will wrote: Not only was Coach Morriss blustering on record about being proud of his team’s lawless disregard for speech, […]

    » Read More
  • CFN Members at American University Show Support For Free Speech

    April 22, 2009

    Earlier this month, members of FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network and American University Students for Liberty hosted a FIRE table on their campus. They passed out FIRE’s Guides to Students Rights on Campus as well as other FIRE materials to students walking around campus. According to CFN member and AU SFL President Irena Schneider ’11, “We taped our mouths with duct tape, on which we wrote ‘speech codes.’ We hampered ourselves this way to symbolize the inability of students across the country to express themselves freely because of restrictive speech codes enforced by their university administrations.” Along with the materials provided […]

    » Read More
  • FIRE President to Speak at American University Tonight

    February 19, 2009

    FIRE President Greg Lukianoff will speak tonight at American University. The title of Greg’s speech is “Unlearning Liberty,” in which he will discuss the threats to liberty on campus. Greg will also explain how administrative censorship teaches students to choose censorship instead of discussion to combat ideas with which they disagree. Tonight’s lecture is co-sponsored by The Kennedy Political Union and American University Students for Liberty. Greg’s speech will take place at the Mary Graydon Center #3 at 6:00 pm EST.

    » Read More
  • Ladner ‘Is Terminated as President’ of American University

    October 11, 2005

    So it finally happened: the president of American University, my undergrad alma mater, has been terminated (subscription required) after coming “under heavy fire for spending university funds on lavish personal parties, a highly paid chef, and other amenities, including a car service for his wife.” The battle with Ladner has been epic, but he may have the last laugh after all because his contract “could require the university to retain Mr. Ladner as American’s highest paid faculty member for life.” Still, this is undeniably a major blow to a formerly imperial university president.   Of course, it is hard for […]

    » Read More
  • Hunting Witches and Terrorists

    September 29, 2005

    As we have pointed out before, American University President Benjamin Ladner is currently suspended and under investigation for possible misuse of AU funds. In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required), Ladner responded to the controversy with a striking statement: In a lengthy interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Ladner said he wants to return to his post. “I felt mugged,” he said of the recent furor over his expenses. “Clearly it was a witch hunt. I now know that.” The reason that comment was so striking to me is that Ladner ought to know a witch […]

    » Read More
  • AU President Placed on Leave

    August 25, 2005

    Benjamin Ladner, the president of American University, has been placed on paid leave “pending the outcome of an investigation into personal and travel expenses.” Ladner is accused of “us[ing] university funds to pay for the use of a French chef, an engagement party for his son, trips to Europe, and $200,000 in drainage and landscaping work at his home.”   Ladner, of course, is no friend of civil liberties, as FIRE’s run-in with him in 2002 proved. But even someone who denied a student critic the most basic free speech and due process rights still deserves the latter while he […]

    » Read More
  • UC Santa Barbara’s Unlikely Claims

    February 8, 2005

    Last week the University of California at Santa Barbara capitulated in its attempt to force the owner of a site called to remove the initials “UCSB” on its site. This is a remarkable case for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it highlights the trend of using intellectual property law as a tool for silencing criticism. Obviously, it would be hard to criticize an organization or institution if you couldn’t say its name! “Man, I think BLANK is corrupt. You know who I mean by BLANK, correct?” just isn’t a very effective way to dissent. […]

    » Read More
  • Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on American University

    July 25, 2002

    July 25, 2002 HEADLINE: Back of the Book GUESTS: Ben Wetmore BYLINE: Bill O’Reilly O’REILLY: In the “Back of the Book” segment tonight, things got a little rough last April at American University in Washington, D.C. Tipper Gore was giving a speech and poli-sci major Ben Wetmore, a junior, was taping that speech. Midway through Mrs. Gore’s remarks, Wetmore was arrested by campus police officers. He joins us now from Denver, where he is spending the summer. All right, Ben. So, you’re a rabble-rouser, an Abbey Hoffman-type guy, causing trouble on the campus. And what happened to you after you […]

    » Read More
  • Fox News’ Brit Hume on American University

    July 23, 2002

    July 23, 2002 Political Headlines BYLINE: Brit Hume, Catherine Herridge, Mike Emanuel HUME: And now the most interesting two minutes in television, the latest from the political “Grapevine.” *** A student at American University here in Washington is on probation and faces charges of theft of intellectual property because he tried to videotape a speech on campus by Tipper Gore. The student campus gadfly Ben Wetmore says he thought there should be some recorded record of the speech by the former vice president’s wife, especially, he says, since she was being paid. So he sat in the bleachers and quietly […]

    » Read More
  • FIRE Letter to American University Board of Trustees, July 16, 2002

    July 16, 2002

    Note: This letter was sent to each member of the Board of Trustees. July 16, 2002 George J. Collins, Chair Board of Trustees American University Board of Trustees T. Rowe Price 100 East Pratt Street Baltimore, Maryland 21202 Dear Mr. Collins, I write on behalf of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) concerning an issue at American University that should be of the greatest concern to you and the entire Board of Trustees. As our June 11, 2002 letter (attached) explains in greater detail, Ben Wetmore, an undergraduate student at American University, has been targeted and severely punished […]

    » Read More
  • Statement from Vice President of Campus Life Gail Short Hanson Regarding an Incident Involving AU Student Ben Wetmore

    July 12, 2002

    There has been recent news coverage of an incident on the AU campus last April involving AU student Ben Wetmore and his unauthorized videotaping of an event. The incident is being used as a “cause celebre” by some individuals and advocacy organizations that have circulated misleading and in some cases false information about what occurred. The University maintains a commitment to protect student privacy rights respecting confidential information and processes; therefore, certain details and information cannot be reported. Within that context, however, we would like to clarify what has transpired. First, and most importantly, American University has a proud tradition […]

    » Read More
  • Letter from American University Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Faith C. Leonard to FIRE, June 26, 2002

    June 26, 2002

    June 26, 2002 Mr. Greg Lukianoff Foundation for Individual Rights in Education 210 West Washington Square, Suite 303 Philadelphia, PA 19106 Dear Mr. Lukianoff: Your letter of June 11, 2002 raises several issues regarding the judicial case of Benjamin Wetmore at American University. I have been asked to respond to you on behalf of the university since I oversee the operations of Judicial Affairs and Mediation Services. Mr. Wetmore has confirmed that I may communicate freely with you about his case. For ease of reference, I am including a letter dated May 8, 2002 to Mr. Wetmore which explains the […]

    » Read More
  • FIRE Letter to American University President Benjamin Ladner, June 11, 2002

    June 11, 2002

    June 11, 2002 President Benjamin Ladner Office of the President American University 4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20016 Re: Disciplinary Charges against Benjamin Wetmore Dear President Ladner: As you can see from the list of our Directors and Board of Advisors, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) unites leaders in the fields of civil rights and civil liberties, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, legal equality, freedom of religion, academic freedom, and, in this case, fundamental fairness and freedom of speech and expression on America’s college campuses. Our […]

    » Read More