Free speech seems to be ever more unpopular on college campuses these days, where it’s increasingly regarded as an unwelcome nuisance. The administration at Drake University have decided that the public expression of individual students’ private political opinions is something that can’t be permitted on campus. So they’ve created a “free speech zone” nearby where – for the time being, at least – you can stump for your favorite candidate. I wonder if there’s a sign posted that reads “Restricted Area: Free Speech Allowed.”
Check out this statement on campus political activity from our friends at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. As the 2012 election year approaches, it'll be helpful to know the academic ideological landscape which, as FIRE's examples illustrate, hasn't been a citadel of free expression for some time now. We can thank FIRE once again for holding academics to the principles they once enshrined, but now often eschew.
New mandatory regulations for college sexual harassment case procedures from the US Education Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) have made it much easier to return a guilty verdict but thanks to FIRE's tireless vigilance and PR efforts, a particularly egregious case at the University of North Dakota has seen justice done.
I wrote about the astonishing case of a professor at East Georgia College about two years ago; he was fired summarily for having had the temerity to criticize the school's sexual harassment policy. Just recently the case was settled for a mere $50,000. Read about it here. That seems like small compensation for the damage the college inflicted, but maybe there simply wasn't more to be gotten.
A professor at East Georgia College was just legally vindicated after being terminated, NOT for sexual harassment itself, but for merely criticizing his school's proposed policy at a faculty meeting in 2009. You can read about the details here, courtesy of our friends at FIRE, who these days seem to have more and more work to do. First Amendment Rights? Not when it comes to the SHI (sexual Harassment Industry). Never, never assume that we've finally reached the limits of Orwellian absurdity where this subject is concerned.
It is always nice to report good news. In the long struggle for sanity on college campuses, occasionally schools "do the right thing." In this case, the University of Virginia has eliminated all speech codes and earned a "Green Light" from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). For more on the story, click here. To see where your school stands in FIRE ratings, search here. Sadly, most schools are Red or Yellow. Take action by keeping an eye on your alma mater or local university. Report to your local NAS affiliate and/or contact FIRE.
From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education:
A new short film by FIRE documents the experience of Penn State student artist Joshua Stulman, whose "Portraits of Terror" art exhibit was censored by the university because it satirized Islamic terrorism. Stulman is just one of numerous college students and faculty members who have been silenced for discussing or criticizing Islamic extremism.
Our friends at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education continue their stellar work defending the academic freedom and First Amendment rights of college faculty members - especially untenured adjuncts - who collide with stifiling campus political orthodoxies. This time, they've scored against the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District, which will have to pay 100K in lost wages to an adjunct instructor who was terminated in 2007 after a student complained that her brief classroom discussion of the origins of homosexuality was "offensive." The district will have to pick up the tab for legal expenses as well. Too bad for them - and the taxpayers who will carry theses costs - that they didn't simply respect the instructor's academic freedom in the first place. But while I'm glad that FIRE was able to intervene successfully in this case, I also wish that they and other organizations such as the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) didn't have so much work to do. This is getting to be a depressingly familiar scenario: 1) Instructor in a psychology or ethics course examines homosexuality or sex differences, says something that a student finds "offensive." 2) A complaint is forwarded at the speed of light to the administration, cc to the campus women's center, the dean of multicultural affairs or the LGBT office, who don't necessarily need to interview the instructor, but nevertheless agree that yes, yes, the classroom discussion was indeed "offensive." 3) The administration informs instructor that she's outta here. 4) Board of directors upholds administration, unimpressed by quaint ideas about academic freedom or First Amendment protections. Honestly, I wonder what the worst aspect of cases such as this one is. It's appalling, of course, that such an Orwellian intellectual climate exists on so many campuses, and the examples of outrages such as this one seem to pop up weekly. See Ashley Thorne's recent post detailing the latest incident involving a socal work student whose religious convictions ran afoul of a counseling program at Augusta State University in Georgia. But what about boards of trustees, such as the one in the San Jose/Evergreen case? What could they, as the governing bodies at a public institution have been thinking? Apart from the deserved embarassment their school has incurred and the hefty settlement costs they've handed to taxpayers, what does academic freedom or First Amendment protections mean to them? Not much, I have to conclude, since they upheld the administration's outrage, without apparently seeing it as such. Kudos to FIRE once again, which seems to have a much firmer grasp of the academic enterprise and its mission than do many of the people to whom it's been directly entrusted.
The Foundation for Individual Rights has announced that the University of Minnesota, in response to a letter from FIRE, promised that "[n]o University policy or practice ever will mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out people with 'wrong beliefs' from the University." The FIRE letter was prompted by a proposal for the university's school of education, to be voted on in January, that would require all ed students to study “white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression.” NAS wrote about it here. FIRE is cautiously optimistic about the university's response. While warning that "The next version of the college's plans must reflect this promise," it has declared a victory for freedom of conscience. The letter from General Counsel Mark B. Rotenberg, however, gives cause for continuing concern. Rotenberg asserts that the university holds the right, under academic freedom, to "engage in creative thinking, dialogue, and advocacy with respect to a broad range of ideas for improving P-12 education." He added, "Academic freedom means little if our teaching faculty is inhibited from discussing and proposing curriculum innovations simply because others find them 'illiberal' or 'unjust.'" Rotenberg is right to praise the exchange of different and competing viewpoints. But U Minnesota needs to be more thoughtful about its proposals. Even illiberal brainstorming can take root when it results in public documents ready for approval. Take Virginia Tech, for example. Its College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences recently came out with a "Strategic Diversity Plan" that aimed to put in systems for logrolling; provide incentives (some monetary) for faculty and staff to take part in diversity activities and for departments to make faculty hires; implement College-wide diversity course requirements; and enact racial preferences in spite of a Virginia Tech ban on affirmative action. It is not clear what bureaucratic hurtles remain for the Diversity Plan's approval or when it is likely to be granted (although the general CLAHS Strategic Plan has already endorsed the Diversity Plan), but it is clear that such a plan, if approved, will leave Virginia Tech's intellectual integrity in ruins. So no, proposing illiberal or unjust "curriculum innovations" is not as benign as Rotenberg would like it to sound. But for now, we join with FIRE in encouragement over the University of Minnesota's promises not to mandate particular points of view.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has published a guide to help administrators craft school policies in such a way as to protect First Amendment rights on campus. "Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies" (download PDF) details the problems - bias reporting sites, free speech zones, undefined terminology in harassment policies, mandatory university values - that FIRE frequently encounters among institutional policies. NAS of course has also dealt with these problems. Our statement Sexual Harassment and Academic Freedom showed how the rights of individuals can be violated by misguided efforts to combat sexual harassment. In Tolerance, Diversity, Respect, OR ELSE, Williams Chokes Up, and Snitch Studies at Cal Poly, we highlighted freedom-threatening bias reporting systems at William & Mary, Williams College, and Cal Poly, respectively. And this spring, in a series of articles (beginning with Free to Agree), NAS exposed Virginia Tech's faculty promotion and tenure policy that included a commitment-to-diversity litmus test. We are welcome FIRE's new guide for protecting individual rights on campus, and we hope to see more and more college administrators heeding the counsel therein.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) today celebrates ten years ofdefending Constitutional rights on college campuses. Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate founded FIRE in 1999 to combat "the systematic violation of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, due process, and other basic rights on campuses across the nation." Ever since then, FIRE has done great work, fighting - and often winning - battles on behalf of students, faculty members, and administrators whose freedoms were under attack. Tonight FIRE is hosting an anniversary gala, where NAS members Dr. Jan Blits and Dr. Linda Gottfredson will be honored with a special award for their efforts in exposing the abuses of the University of Delaware residence life program since 2007. The National Association of Scholars salutes FIRE's good work, and we are proud of the competent and influential organization it has become.
At the national NAS conference in January, Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, spoke on the state of free speech and civil liberties on campus. Here is the text of his speech, rich in links and civil liberties cases, where he correlates the rise of the speech code to the rise of college administrators.