Back to School 2007: FIRE Arms Students and Faculty with New Resources to Fight for Liberty on Campus

September 13, 2007

PHILADELPHIA, September 13, 2007—As colleges and universities around the nation begin another academic year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is ready with enhanced resources to fight violations of student and faculty rights. This year, FIRE’s new resources include the Campus Freedom Network, the Red Alert list, and a web “widget” that provides up-to-date information about campus speech codes across the country. As the 2007-2008 year begins, FIRE would particularly like to warn students at Johns Hopkins University and Tufts University about ongoing threats to liberty on their campuses.

Johns Hopkins University ended last year on a repressive note by finding eighteen-year-old junior Justin Park guilty of “harassment” for posting an “offensive” Halloween party invitation on Facebook.com. Hopkins President William Brody made matters worse shortly after Park’s suspension by introducing a new and chillingly broad “civility” code prohibiting “rude, disrespectful behavior” on campus. This civility code will be sure to haunt life at Hopkins this year, as students will likely either self-censor or face sanctions merely for expressing supposedly “offensive” or unpopular ideas.

Hopkins’ abuse of students’ rights was rivaled only by Tufts University, which found the conservative newspaper The Primary Source (TPS) guilty of harassment for publishing two satirical and controversial articles. TPS’s satirical Christmas carol, along with a mock advertisement entitled “Islam—Arabic Translation: Submission,” caused a stir on campus for ridiculing race-based admissions and Tufts’ “Islamic Awareness Week,” respectively. Students filed complaints against the paper for both articles, and the university’s Committee on Student Life determined that TPS was guilty of “harassment.” Even after Tufts attempted to rectify the situation and claim its students enjoyed full First Amendment rights, it unconscionably allowed the harassment finding to stand.

“The current situations at both Johns Hopkins and Tufts show that these schools continue to disregard the rights of their students and faculty,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Until Johns Hopkins repeals its civility code and Tufts admits that simply publishing verifiable facts about a religion is not ‘harassment,’ FIRE must keep both institutions on our Red Alert list and continue to warn the public about the sad state of students’ rights there.”

FIRE begins this academic year with a new set of tools to help students remain well-informed about the extent of their individual freedoms on campus. These new resources include:

  • FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network (CFN), a coalition of students and faculty across the country united in the fight for freedom on campuses. This year, the CFN will debut a redesigned website with more interactivity for members and plans for the first-ever CFN conference. Interested students and faculty members should inquire at cfn@thefire.org.
  • FIRE’s Speech Codes Widget, which can show FIRE’s speech code rating for any of the nearly 350 campuses rated by FIRE. FIRE rates campus speech codes on a “red light, yellow light, green light” scale. Sadly, only a handful of colleges are “green light” institutions, which means FIRE has found no policies that substantially limit free speech on those campuses, while nearly 69% of schools maintain “red light” policies, which means that they have at least one policy that highly restricts speech. All it takes to add the widget to any blog or website is to copy a few lines of code provided on every school’s speech code page at thefire.org/spotlight—just like adding a YouTube video. The widget will help students, alumni, parents, and the community spread the word about—and thereby help defeat—campus speech codes.
  • FIRE’s newly implemented Red Alert list, which warns prospective students and parents about the “worst of the worst” offenders of liberty on campus.
  • FIRE’s second annual speech code report, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2007: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses, due later this fall. The results are certain to be telling, as last year’s report revealed that an overwhelming majority of schools surveyed explicitly prohibit speech that, outside the borders of campus, is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The report will be the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify both the number of schools that significantly restrict student and faculty speech and the severity of those restrictions.

In addition to these new tools for protecting free speech on campus, FIRE continues to offer the same unparalleled resources that have proven successful in combating censorship on campus throughout FIRE’s history. FIRE’s Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource offers information on speech codes that threaten free expression on America’s campuses, and FIRE’s blog, The Torch, features constantly updated discussions about the state of liberty on campus. The Guides to Student Rights on Campus, a highly regarded series of primers on basic rights in higher education, are available to anyone wanting to learn about the extent of individual rights on campus. FIRE’s Guide to First-Year Orientation and Thought Reform on Campus is particularly noteworthy for the new school year, as many students are required to attend orientation sessions that show precious little respect for individuality and the right of private conscience. The Guides provide information about students’ rights and how to preserve them, as well as a basic understanding of the central tenets of a free society. 

“We begin this year more prepared than ever to combat the repressive tendencies at universities across the country,” Lukianoff said. “Students, professors, and parents should know that FIRE will work toward making 2007-2008 the year in which free speech was reinstated as a hallmark of American higher education.”

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 across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg_lukianoff@thefire.org
William Brody, President, Johns Hopkins University: 410-516-8068; wrbrody@jhu.edu
Lawrence S. Bacow, President, Tufts University: 617-627-3300; bacow@tufts.edu