2010: A Pivotal Year for Campus Liberty

December 30, 2010

PHILADELPHIA, December 30, 2010Two-thirds of America’s leading colleges and universitiesthose places most badly in need of open debate and discussionhave speech codes that restrict speech, according to an extensive new study by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). But the tide is turning: over the past 11 years, FIRE has been directly responsible for changing 95 unconstitutional or repressive policies, advancing freedom of expression for more than 2.2 million students. FIRE also has secured 193 public victories in individual cases at 141 colleges and universities.

"Campus speech codes and censorship are as unpopular as ever in the courts and among the American people," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "In 2010, we saw more signs that college administrators are noticing that there are real costs to silencing opinions they dislike on campus and that FIRE will always be there to defend the rights of students to debate, discuss, satirize, and dissent. But tremendous work remains to be done before we can consider our campuses safe for students’ and faculty members’ fundamental rights."

Among FIRE’s many victories for freedom of speech and expression, freedom of association, religious liberty, and freedom of conscience in 2010 are:

  • Valdosta State University‘s former president and the University of Georgia System’s Board of Regents lost a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a student whose First Amendment and due process rights were grossly violated. In what may prove to be one of the most important legal victories in FIRE’s history, FIRE successfully pierced the "qualified immunity" of a high-ranking university official, meaning that he could be held personally liable for violating the student’s rights.
  • Temple University withdrew an unconstitutional, after-the-fact security fee that it had charged a student group for hosting a presentation by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has faced retaliation for his controversial remarks about terrorism and Islam.
  • University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ended a moratorium on funding for all 33 student media organizations. The funding freeze had been enacted by the student government president in order to combat "fracturing of the student body on an issue" and "hateful speech" following a controversial party invitation for an off-campus "Compton Cookout."
  • A federal district court in Texas ruled that a number of restrictions on students’ speech at Tarrant County College (TCC) were unconstitutional. TCC had repeatedly prevented members of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus from holding an "Empty Holster Protest" to demonstrate their opposition to a ban on concealed carry of weapons on campus.
  • Duke University reversed a decision by its Women’s Center that had prohibited a pro-life group from holding a discussion on student motherhood at the Center during the group’s "Week for Life."
  • University of South Florida reversed its denial of recognition to the conservative Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) student group after initially arguing that YAF’s mission was too "similar" to the libertarian Young Americans for Liberty.
  • Northern Illinois University reversed its denial of recognition to Students for Sensible Drug Policy after student government members demonstrated animosity toward the group and its mission.
  • University of Arizona recognized a pro-life student group after denying it recognition simply because its proposed constitution required that members agree with the purpose and principles of the group.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reinstated Professor Kenneth Howell, who had been dismissed from the university for teaching about Catholic thought in his course about Catholic thought.
  • Hamilton College backed off from mandating that every male freshman attend a program called "She Fears You." The students would have been pressed to admit their personal complicity in a "rape culture" by means of a mandatory psychological "intervention."

Unconstitutional speech codes on public campuses also dropped for the third year in a row from 79% three years ago to 67% in 2010. The University of Virginia exemplified this trend by completely eliminating its speech codes in cooperation with FIRE.

In 2010, FIRE’s work was featured in more than 100 news articles in more than 65 publications with a combined print and online circulation of more than 150 million readers. FIRE representatives made 32 public speaking appearances, many through FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network, which has expanded to 4,300 members nationwide.

FIRE reached millions more people through appearances on MSNBC and FOX Business Network, advertisements on Facebook and in print publications such as the college rankings issue of U.S. News & World Report, a billboard about Bucknell University‘s violations of its free speech promises, and FIRE’s video series.

FIRE also made the state of the law known to even more college administrators by publishing cutting-edge legal scholarship in leading law journals, holding Continuing Legal Education courses for attorneys, and sending certified letters to nearly 300 schools with unconstitutional speech codes.

In addition, FIRE has warned that new efforts to fight "bullying" and "cyberbullying" such as the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2010 are at odds with the Supreme Court’s carefully crafted definition of peer harassment and would require colleges to violate the First Amendment.

Many more of FIRE’s accomplishments in 2010 are available on FIRE’s website.

"FIRE is looking forward to fighting both old and new threats to individual rights in 2011," FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel said. "With the help of the public, we can make further progress against the abuses of campus political correctness and authoritarianism and can persuade colleges to teach their students that they are not too weak to live with liberty."

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:
Adam Kissel, Vice President of Programs, FIRE: 215-717-3473; adam@thefire.org