Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Universities Used To Be Free Speech Havens--No Longer
FIRE Lists Ten Colleges With the Worst Free Speech Issues
FIRE is a legal advocacy group that aims to defend due process, religious
liberty, and the First Amendment on college campuses. Its staff consists of
individuals across the political spectrum who are dedicated to protecting
students' constitutional rights.
VIDEOQuickTake: University Endowments Under Fire
Below is FIRE's list of the ten worst purveyors of speech suppression, including
some excerpts of Lukianoff's explanation of why FIRE assigned them their
1. Northern Michigan University
Any list of schools that most shocked the conscience with their censorship in the past year would have to include Northern Michigan University (NMU). Until last year, NMU had a long-standing practice of prohibiting students suspected of engaging in or considering self-harm from discussing “suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions” with other students. If they did, they faced the threat of disciplinary action.
After FIRE brought this information to a national stage, causing a social media firestorm, NMU hastily distanced itself from the practice and publicly committed not to punish students for discussing thoughts of self-harm.
2. California State University, Los Angeles
Last February, conservative author and political commentator Ben Shapiro was scheduled to speak at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) at the invitation of a student chapter of Young America’s Foundation. After students threatened to protest Shapiro’s speech, CSULA demanded that the students hosting the event pay the cost of security because the appearance was “controversial.” The students objected, but it didn’t matter; CSULA President William Covino unilaterally canceled Shapiro’s speech, claiming he could appear at some future date if accompanied by a panel of speakers who disagree with him.
3. Fordham University
On November 17, the Fordham United Student Government (USG) Senate and Executive Board approved a prospective Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter. Dean of Students Keith Eldredge informed SJP’s members that he wanted to review the group’s status before it could be granted official recognition, and then chose to overrule the USG and deny SJP’s recognition on December 22. Eldredge wrote that he “cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country” and that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … often leads to polarization rather than dialogue.”
On January 25, FIRE and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent a letter to Fordham demanding the university recognize SJP and noting that its reasons for rejecting SJP fail to align with the university’s stated commitments to free expression. In its response to FIRE, Fordham doubled down on its rejection of SJP and offered a new baseless justification: that members of SJP chapters at other universities had engaged in conduct that would violate Fordham’s code of conduct.
4. University of Oregon
The University of Oregon’s (UO’s) Bias Response Team (BRT), and its response to a professor’s off-campus Halloween costume, earned it a spot on this year’s list.
UO’s BRT, which responds to student complaints about offensive (yet protected) speech, found itself embroiled in public controversy last spring and then tried to hide its records from public scrutiny. Criticism arose when the BRT’s annual reports surfaced, revealing that the BRT had intervened with the student newspaper because of a complaint that it “gave less press coverage to trans students and students of color.” In another instance, UO dispatched a case manager to dictate “community standards and expectations to” students who had the audacity to express “anger about oppression.”
5. California State University, Long Beach
This fall, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) administrators betrayed First Amendment principles when they closed the curtain on a scheduled campus performance of the satirical play N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK (N*W*C*).
The university canceled the September 29 performance due to its apparent opposition to the play’s deliberately provocative content. N*W*C* is performed by Asian-American, Hispanic-American, and African-American actors who share personal narratives about how the construct of race shapes personal identity while also mocking stereotypes and racial slurs that perpetuate social injustice.
6. Harvard University
Last May, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and Dean Rakesh Khurana announced their plan to blacklist members of off-campus single-gender organizations, including fraternities, sororities, and Harvard-specific “final clubs.” Students determined to be members of these organizations would be banned from leadership positions on sports teams and official student organizations, and barred from receiving recommendations from the Dean’s Office for Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.
While not a straightforward “free speech” violation, Harvard’s actions so severely violate the correlated right to freedom of association that the university deserves inclusion on this list.
7. University of Southern California
What lesson did students at the University of South Carolina (USC) learn in 2016? Even when you do everything you can to avoid getting in trouble for potentially controversial speech on campus, trouble may still find you.
Last February, USC student Ross Abbott and the campus chapters of Young Americans for Liberty and the College Libertarians filed a First Amendment lawsuit with FIRE’s assistance after Abbott was investigated for a free speech event for which the groups received prior approval.
8. Williams College
Last February, Williams President Adam Falk took what even he described as an “extraordinary step” when he unilaterally disinvited author and conservative commentator John Derbyshire, a polarizing figure for his writings on “race realism,” from the Massachusetts liberal arts college.
9. Georgetown University
Making its second appearance in as many years on FIRE’s “worst” list is Georgetown University. As the presidential primary season got underway, Georgetown University Law Center informed a group of Bernie Sanders supporters that campus was no place for talking to fellow students about their chosen candidate. The students were informed that, because Georgetown is a tax-exempt institution, the law school could not allow any campaigning or partisan political speech on campus.
10. DePaul University
In April, after students chalked messages in support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, DePaul warned all students that they were not allowed to chalk partisan messages on campus due to the university’s tax-exempt status—a justification that FIRE has refuted on several occasions.
A month later, when the College Republicans invited controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos to campus, DePaul attempted to obstruct the event by limiting Yiannopoulos’ speaking time to 15–20 minutes and charging the students $1,000 for extra security. When students stormed the stage and disrupted the event, the security guards refused to intervene. When the College Republicans sought to re-invite Yiannopoulos, DePaul banned them from doing so.
But DePaul was not done infringing on its students’ rights. In July, DePaul also banned the DePaul Young Americans for Freedom chapter from inviting conservative journalist Ben Shapiro to speak on campus.
These ten colleges are not the only ones that have problems with censorship. Lukianoff suggested that 92% of colleges and universities impose speech codes on their respective student bodies. Free speech issues occur across party lines and it poses a significant threat to constitutional freedom and liberties. It is important for liberty-loving Americans across the aisle to fight back against the fascists in college administrations.