Michigan State University: Department of Entomology’s Community Norms Implicate Students’ and Facultys’ Essential Freedoms


Michigan State University

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Case Overview

The Entomology department at Michigan State University recently implemented Community Norms that purport to establish that MSU Entomologists “will” follow certain “norms” that function as subjective civility requirements and effectively force faculty and students to ascribe to university endorsed ideas. We wrote the department on October 23 to explain both that civility requirements invite abuse as a tool to selectively punish those whose views administrators may disfavor, and that compelling speech impinges on individuals’ scholarly autonomy and freedom to dissent from the prevailing consensus on issues of public concern. We also explained that the Community Norms are unconstitutionally overbroad and vague, as they ignore that “uncivil” speech may be entitled to First Amendment protection while failing to give notice of exactly what speech is considered “uncivil.” We urged the department to either remove or revise the relevant provisions of the Community Norms, or add a statement making it clear they are purely aspirational, in order to meet its binding legal obligations by forgoing Community Norms that unconstitutionally implicate faculty and student speech.