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Samantha Harris

Sam Harris

Freedom of Speech and the Rise of "Soft Censorship" on Campus

March 22, 2017

Samantha Harris graduated from Princeton University with a degree in politics in 1999 and went on to earn her J.D. in 2002 from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she served on the editorial board of the Journal of Constitutional Law.

Samantha joined FIRE in 2005 after serving as a law clerk for the late Honorable Jay C. Waldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and working as a litigation associate at the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

Samantha conducts extensive research on policies affecting the free speech and due process rights of students and faculty at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide. She is the author of FIRE’s annual  Spotlight on Speech Codes report. She speaks extensively on issues of free speech and due process, and has represented FIRE publicly on national television and radio as well as in publications including  Inside Higher Ed and the  New York Post.


Formal speech codes, which have repeatedly been declared unconstitutional by federal courts, have been on the decline at universities over the past decade. At the same time, however, we have seen universities adopt other strategies for addressing unpopular speech on campus, such as "bias reporting teams" that encourage students to report any instances of offensive speech to the administration for official investigation. Some of these strategies amount to "soft" forms of censorship that, while not explicitly prohibiting protected speech, have a powerful chilling effect that leads to self-censorship. Of particular concern is the impact this "soft" censorship has had on faculty in the classroom, who increasingly report feeling that their primary goal in the classroom must be avoiding offense rather than instilling knowledge. This talk will explore these emerging forms of "soft censorship" and will offer steps can take to maintain an educational environment that is supportive of free and open debate.

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