“It used to be college was a place for open dialogue and open debate,” says Says Cliff Maloney Jr., Executive Director at Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). “But now we find free speech zones, we find unconstitutional policies. And thats our goal with…our national fight for free speech campaign. How do we tackle them? How do we change them and reform them?”
YAL, the non-profit pro-liberty organization that emerged from the 2008 Ron Paul campaign, encourages college students to understand and exercise their constitutional rights. “We try to reach kids with these ideas. We do that through activism. Real events–which college campuses are supposed to be all about–taking ideas to students and having these discussions.” Since it’s founding, YAL has increased chapters from 100 to over 700 nationwide. Read the rest of this entry »
“There is a limit to ‘bait-and-switch’ techniques that promise academic freedom and legal equality but deliver authoritarianism and selective censorship.”
On public college and universities, the First Amendment applies, thus giving students, faculty members, and everyone else protection against official censorship or punishment for saying things that some people don’t want said. A splendid example of that was brought to a conclusion earlier this year at Valdosta State University, where the school’s president went on a vendetta against a student who criticized his plans for a new parking structure – and was clobbered in court. (I discussed that case here.)
But the First Amendment does not apply to private colleges and universities because they don’t involve governmental action. Oddly, while all colleges that accept federal student aid money must abide by a vast host of regulations, the Supreme Court ruled in Rendell-Baker v. Kohn that acceptance of such money does not bring them under the umbrella of the First Amendment.
At private colleges, the protection for freedom of speech has to be found (at least in most states) in the implicit contract the school enters into with each incoming student. Ordinarily, the school holds itself out as guaranteeing certain things about itself and life on campus in its handbook and other materials. If school officials act in ways that depart significantly from the reasonable expectations it created, then the college can be held liable. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Barone writes: “‘Shut up,’ he explained.” Those words are from Ring Lardner‘s short story “The Young Immigrunts.” They’re an exasperated father’s response from the driver’s seat to his child’s question, “‘Are you lost, Daddy?’ I asked tenderly.”
They also can be taken as the emblematic response of today’s liberals to anyone questioning their certitudes. A response that at least sometimes represents the uneasy apprehension of the father in the story that they have no good answer.
“We are told that speech codes are necessary because some students may be offended by what others say. In recent years we have been warned that seemingly innocuous phrases may be ‘microaggressions’ that must be stamped out and that “trigger warnings” should be administered to warn students of possibly upsetting material.”
It was not always so. Today’s liberals, like those of Lardner’s day, pride themselves on their critical minds, their openness to new and unfamiliar ideas, their tolerance of diversity and differences. But often that characterization seems as defunct as Lardner, who died at an unhappily early age in 1935.
“Beyond the campus, liberals are also eager to restrict free speech. This is apparent in some responses to those who argue that global warming may not be as inevitable and harmful as most liberals believe, and that while increased carbon emissions would surely raise temperatures if they were the only factor affecting climate, some other factors just might be involved.”
Consider the proliferation of speech codes at our colleges and universities. The website of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sets out the speech codes at 400 of the nation’s largest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning. The liberals who run these institutions — you won’t find many non-liberals among their faculties and administrations — have decided to limit their students’ First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Read the rest of this entry »
“The…idea that if you just let people talk, it will be this pit of racist pandemonium…is sort of childish and it oversimplifies. But it is a great justification for having a lot of power over speech,” says Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
George Mason University also becomes the third green light institution in the state of Virginia, joining the University of Virginia and The College of William & Mary
WASHINGTON, April 21, 2015—George Mason University (GMU) has eliminated all of its speech codes, earning the highest, “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). After working with FIRE to ensure its policies comply with the First Amendment, the Virginia university has joined a select group of colleges and universities nationwide to earn FIRE’s most favorable rating for free speech on campus.
“Freedom of speech and academic freedom are core values of a university’s mission. I’m delighted that George Mason has joined the ranks of universities that have committed themselves to the full protection of free speech. Thank you to our administration for their dedicated work in providing a context where students and faculty can express controversial ideas freely, and even inartfully, without fear of reprisal.”
“We commend George Mason University for improving its policies and fully upholding the First Amendment rights of its students and faculty members,” said Azhar Majeed, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Education Program. “GMU is now a national leader in terms of respecting free speech in higher education, and the university’s actions should serve as a positive example for other institutions to follow.”
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Awards Highest Free Speech Rating to George Mason University
FIRE has been advocating for speech code reform at GMU for nearly a decade. In May 2014, Majeed and GMU Director of Special Diversity Projects Dennis Webster began working together to revise seven university policies, including a flyer posting policy, a sexual harassment policy, two provisions from the student conduct code, and a policy on leafleting. GMU Foundation Professor of Law Todd Zywicki also assisted in the effort.
“We commend George Mason University for improving its policies and fully upholding the First Amendment rights of its students and faculty members. GMU is now a national leader in terms of respecting free speech in higher education, and the university’s actions should serve as a positive example for other institutions to follow.”
— Azhar Majeed, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Education Program
“Freedom of speech and academic freedom are core values of a university’s mission,” said Zywicki. “I’m delighted that George Mason has joined the ranks of universities that have committed themselves to the full protection of free speech. Thank you to our administration for their dedicated work in providing a context where students and faculty can express controversial ideas freely, and even inartfully, without fear of reprisal.” Read the rest of this entry »
Question: Which American institution—one that prides itself on being open, democratic, and diverse—punishes its members severely for offering unpopular opinions, while it offers them a very narrow, limited worldview?
[Check out Greg Lukianoff‘s book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate at Amazon]
Answer: Universities. Once the vanguard of open debate and free speech, colleges have become a place where alternative thinking goes to die. Students who speak out on behalf of traditional American ideals, unfortunately, are often silenced by college administrators. Learn how the college campus, a place that should be an intellectual melting pot, has turned into anything but, violating the rights of those who have alternate opinions.
You’ve Been Served: Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Mails First Amendment Warning to More Than 300 CollegesPosted: September 19, 2014
PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 17, 2014—In a national certified mailing sent today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) warns the leaders of more than 300 of our nation’s largest and most prestigious public colleges and universities that they risk First Amendment lawsuits by continuing to maintain speech codes that violate student and faculty rights. The letters are being mailed from the main post office near Independence Hall in Philadelphia today to mark the 227th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
“FIRE prefers to secure students’ and faculty members’ free speech rights by working cooperatively with colleges and universities. However, FIRE will not hesitate to turn to the courts when necessary.”
“58 percent of our nation’s public colleges and universities restrict student and faculty speech with blatantly unconstitutional policies, and 38 percent more enforce policies that are too easily abused to silence campus speech,” said Will Creeley, FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy. “In July, FIRE launched our Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project by announcing four lawsuits against institutions that have violated student and faculty First Amendment rights. Now we’re putting public colleges and universities across the country on notice—and inviting them to work with FIRE to fix flawed policies before they’re challenged in court.”
“Throughout our 15 years defending student and faculty rights, FIRE has consistently coordinated successful First Amendment challenges against unconstitutional speech codes.”
[Below, ReasonTV talks with FIRE about challenges to free speech on college campuses]
“Universities’ stubborn refusal to relinquish their speech codes must not be tolerated,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff during a press conference.
An OU student’s rights organization, OU Students Defending Students, ran afoul of university administrators because he created T-shirts for the organization that featured a risque phrase “We help get you off”
For now, suits have been filed against Ohio University, Iowa State University, Chicago State University, and Citrus College in California. These universities have all trampled students’ free speech rights, according to FIRE. Read the rest of this entry »
For The Daily Caller, Robby Soave reports: Two students are suing the University of Hawaii for violating their First Amendment rights after administrator prevented them from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution — demonstrating a frightening lack of knowledge about the very legal document they were attempting to censor.
“It’s not about your rights…”
— Ellen Kusano, director of Student Affairs
Students Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone, members of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at UH-Hilo, were prevented from handing out copies of the Constitution at a recruitment event in January. A week later, they were again informed by a censorship-minded administrator that their First Amendment-protected activities were in violation of school policy.
The students were told that they could only distribute literature from within UH-Hilo’s “free speech zone,” a small, muddy, frequently-flooded area on the edge of campus.
Administrators further clarified their level of respect for students’ free speech rights, making comments like, “This isn’t really the ’60s anymore,” and “people can’t really protest like that anymore,” according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The First Amendment has not been modified since the 1960s, however, and robustly protects the rights of students at public universities to hold non-disruptive protests, speak their mind and distribute literature. Read the rest of this entry »
For Ricochet, Greg Lukianoff writes: On Friday, April 3, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a first-of-its-kind bill that effectively designates all outdoor areas on Virginia public campuses as public forums. This has the practical effect of not allowing campus speech to be quarantined into ‘free speech zones.'(read more)
Bonus: In this video, note how some libertarian students in Ohio defeated one such zone:
Free Speech Smack-Down Victory: California College Student Teaches School $50,000 Lesson on ConstitutionPosted: February 25, 2014
“What are the rules? Why are the rules tied to my free speech?”
— Student Robert Van Tuinen
“… if you’re going to start an organization like that you have to go through the rigamarole.”
— Campus Police Officer
It’s impossible to watch this video without getting mad. It’s a priceless document, capturing the most offensive and absurd violation of free speech perhaps ever recorded on the campus of a public University. The bureaucratic run-around given to this student by a Campus Law Enforcement Official, and an unidentified University official, is spectacularly, breathtakingly stupid. It’s heartbreaking to listen to their justifications, false objections, and rationalizations. More common than you might think. Blatantly illegal. Is this America? Welcome to modern Academia. Watch the whole thing:
Do these public servants realize they’re exposing the University to a lawsuit? This footage could be preserved as a training video for University staff members. Explicitly demonstrating how to violate a student’s constitutional rights. They couldn’t have performed a more perfectly-worded constitutional rights violation if they had a script written for them by a KGB public relations expert. Example, telling the student that there’s a ‘designated place..”
“…in front of the student center, in that little cement area,” where free expression is allowed…”
— University official
Here’s the legal victory story from Fox News:
A California college student who was blocked last year from handing out copies of the Constitution gave his school a lesson in civics and the law, winning a $50,000 settlement and an agreement to revise its speech codes.
Robert Van Tuinen, 26, settled with Modesto Junior College just five months after his run-in with school officials on Sept. 17 – National Constitution Day. Van Tuinen said he’s more excited about getting the school to revise its speech codes, which previously confined the First Amendment to a small area students had to sign up to use.
Greg Lukianoff writes: College is where inquisitive minds go to be exposed to new ways of thinking. But on some campuses, the quest for knowledge is frustrated when administrators censor speech they would prefer be kept out of the marketplace of ideas.
To close out the year, we at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) want to highlight some of the worst colleges for free speech since March 2012 — the last time we published this list. (Our first list, from 2011, is here.)
Most of the schools we include in this year’s list are public colleges or universities bound by the First Amendment. But some of them are private colleges that, though not required by the Constitution to respect student and faculty free speech rights, nonetheless promise to do so. (As we said last year, if you’re looking for schools like Brigham Young or Liberty University to appear on this list, you’ll be disappointed. Students who attend those schools know what they’re getting themselves into.) One of the institutions listed isn’t even a college, but still deserves special mentioning for the profound effect it had on campus expression this year.
Of course, a “top 10” list cannot include all the colleges that violated free speech rights over the last nearly two years. Two notable colleges that are not on the list include Modesto Junior College (MJC), where, earlier this year, a student was ordered to stop handing out Constitutions on Constitution Day. It was a huge case and would have made the list if not for a recent decision by the college to dramatically improve its policies. MJC dropped some of the worst features of its original policy and have pledged to adopt a permanent policy change that respects the First Amendment. FIRE is optimistic, but will monitor the situation closely, so stay tuned.
The other college is the University of Kansas (KU), which just announced a highly restrictive social media policy for all staff and professors in the wake of a controversial tweet by a journalism professor. We just wrote to the school and want to give KU the chance to respond and/or reform the policy.
For those interested in learning more about the the fight for student rights, check out my book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. In the book, I highlight even more examples of egregious free speech violations from my 12-year fight for basic liberties at colleges across the country.
The State University of New York College at Oswego
The State University of New York at Oswego (SUNY Oswego) earns its rightful place on this list for nonsensically suspending a student who asked rival hockey coaches for their thoughts about his school’s coach in order to complete a class assignment. Because he simply informed the coaches through email that they did not have to say only positive things about their SUNY Oswego counterpart, student Alex Myers was alleged to “defame, harass, intimidate, or threaten another individual or group.” As a result of the charges, Myers was placed on interim suspension and forced to vacate his campus residence. After intense public pressure from FIRE and media outlets like Gawker, the university eventually dropped Myers’ suspension and allowed him to return to campus—but only after the school sent a destructive message to student journalists about asking tough questions.
In George Orwell’s <em>1984</em>, one of the methods that the government of Oceania used to control its population was constant surveillance. Citizens were afraid to speak their minds because they never knew when they were being monitored by “Big Brother.” If you’re a member of the Harvard University community, you might have that same uneasy feeling after it was revealed earlier this year that the administration violated school policy in covertly accessing 16 residential deans’ email accounts. The search was undertaken to determine the source of a leak to the media about a high-profile cheating scandal on campus. The deans, who also serve as lecturers within the school, weren’t notified that their email accounts were accessed until months after it occurred. As Harvard’s student newspaper The Crimson reports, the effect of the covert search has been a chilling effect on faculty speech. Though an official university investigation into the affair concluded that the search was conducted in “good faith,” the administrator responsible for ordering the search has resigned. The question remains: how safe are Harvard students and faculty from future snooping efforts? (Also: Check out other censorship, free speech, and rights issues at Harvard over the last decade)
University of Alabama
The University of Alabama earns its place on this year’s list through its bureaucratic assault on common sense and the Constitution. In April 2013, the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice (AASRJ) student group was blocked from mounting a peaceful counter-demonstration to a Bama Students for Life “Genocide Awareness Project” display that featured graphic abortion-related images. When AASRJ students tried to hand out their materials near the display, they were told by a police officer that without a grounds use permit, they could face arrest. Why not get the permit? For one, Alabama’s grounds use policy requires applicants to apply for a permit 10 working days in advance. This put groups like AASRJ—which had less than 24 hours to plan its counter-demonstration—out of luck. But that’s almost beside the point: It’s absurd that students at any public university should ever have to request permission from their colleges to exercise basic free speech rights, like handing out literature in the campus’ public spaces. Although Alabama slightly revised its policy in response to pressure from FIRE, concerns still remain. Administrators still enjoy far too much discretion in approving permit requests, and the fact remains that spontaneous events—a common feature of college life—are still unduly restricted Read the rest of this entry »
James Taranto writes: Joshua Strange will never forget the girl he met in May 2011.
Both were underclassmen at Alabama’s Auburn University when a common acquaintance introduced them. “We instantly became attached at the hip and did everything together,” she recalled six months later. “I rather quickly moved into his place. . . . Everything was great until pretty much June 29.”
That night, an intimate encounter in Mr. Strange’s bed went wrong. She called police, who detained him for questioning. She said she had awakened to find him forcing himself on her; he said the sexual activity was consensual and initiated by her. There was no dispute as to the physical acts involved.
The accuser did not press charges that night. In fact, before sunrise she returned to his apartment, and the couple agreed to continue dating. When I asked him why in a recent phone interview, he told me: “I cared about her.”
But the relationship soon disintegrated. Phone records show their communications ended in mid-August. In early September he was arrested again after she told police that two days earlier he had confronted her in a public place and struck her. He flatly denied it, saying he was 15 miles away at the time. This time she did press charges, for misdemeanor simple assault as well as for felony forcible sodomy in the June 29 incident.