A 2011 Message from FIRE’s Chairman

By on December 20, 2011

Harvey Silverglate

Today, FIRE Board Chairman and Co-founder Harvey Silverglate sent this message to FIRE’s donors and friends. 

This year, as last, I’ve decided to send you a personal end-of-year message to supplement what you receive from various FIRE staff members, people from whom you hear more frequently than from me. 

The growth of FIRE in both size and effectiveness continued apace during 2011. We have continued to provide aid and comfort to students and faculty members beleaguered by the still-growing army of campus bureaucrats bent on controlling their students’ (and even their faculties’) words, thoughts, and innocuous (or even admirable) behavior. We have developed programs to bring our message to the campuses, the news media, and the general public. We have expanded our Campus Freedom Network of students and professors on the ground, and maintained an impressive string of victories and accomplishments. Indeed, even in those cases not yet resolved, FIRE maintains a point of pride that no case is closed until we’ve prevailed. 

We continue to fight unconstitutional and anti-intellectual speech codes. We persist in our demand that disciplinary processes be both rational and fair. We try to create a campus atmosphere where intellectual inquiry and learning take center stage, rather than tendentious and politically-biased "sensitivity" and other such "training" of both mind and spirit. We’ve made many inroads and have had many victories in individual cases, and yet the cases continue to come in. 

Indeed, this record of achievement-and the seemingly never-ending disruptions of student and faculty rights we fight-resulted in an unprecedented extended meeting earlier this year between the Board of Directors and FIRE’s staff. We asked ourselves and one another: "We know how to prevail in individual cases, but how do we change the culture on campus so that these cases stop erupting in such profusion?" We almost always win the individual battles: starting next year, we will be figuring out how to win the war. 

And so we begin the year 2012 with an even more ambitious goal, and agenda, than in the past. In addition to our work on behalf of individual students, we will be launching a multi-pronged effort to move academic institutions to a position where they willingly act in the great traditions of academic freedom, free inquiry, and fair and rational fact-finding procedures. We hope to help create an atmosphere where campus administrators do the right thing not because FIRE threateningly lurks around the corner, but rather because these institutions recognize that there are great traditions to uphold-traditions which have as much importance in our society today as they did in past generations, traditions carried out in an atmosphere of liberty and intellectual freedom. 

We do not say that there was a "golden age" to which we want our campuses to return; no moment of academic history has lacked its problems. But there was a time when students and professors were far freer to teach and to learn, free from the heavy hand of politically oriented and shamelessly tendentious administrations. Only by changing the culture on campus-in a joint effort with donors, board members, trustees, administrators, faculty, and students-can we help create the academic environment FIRE and its supporters have worked so hard to foster: an environment of free inquiry, free from the grip of those who would suppress speech in favor of the politically acceptable.  

Our goals for 2012 are our most ambitious to date, but I can say with confidence that we have the staff, and the supporters, to carry them out. Thank you for helping us to reach this point; we truly could not do it without you. Along with everyone at FIRE, I am so grateful for your joining us in this urgent work. 

Sincerely and thankfully,

Harvey's Signature

Harvey A. Silverglate
Cambridge, Massachusetts
December 2011

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