University of Alaska Fairbanks: Complaint Over Student Newspaper’s Articles Results in Months-Long Harassment Investigation

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Alaska Fairbanks

University of Alaska Fairbanks student newspaper The Sun Star was subjected to sexual harassment investigations nearly a year after Professor Jensine Anahita filed complaints based on two articles published in April 2013. The first, a satirical article in the paper’s annual April Fool’s Day issue, described the university’s plan to construct a vagina-shaped building and included a picture from the 1998 PG-13 rated film Patch Adams. The second was an investigative report exploring hateful messages posted to the anonymous UAF Confessions Facebook page. The report included screenshots of messages on the page. After a lengthy investigation, UAF concluded that the articles were constitutionally protected speech. Anahita appealed the investigation’s conclusions, and UAF appointed an external attorney to review the investigation. Following a January 15, 2014, letter from FIRE, the reviewer confirmed that the articles enjoy full constitutional protection.

  • Nutty professor finally loses ‘rape culture’ claim about vagina-shaped building satire

    February 22, 2014

    A professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has finally lost her nutty, anti-First Amendment sexual harassment complaints against the school’s student newspaper for running a satirical piece about a vagina-shaped building and a straight news article concerning a Facebook page. It only took almost a year. Sine Anahita, a sociology professor and the coordinator of the school’s women and gender studies program, initially filed a sexual harassment complaint against the student paper, The Sun Star, in April 2013, reports the Student Press Law Center (SPLC). The complaint stemmed from an April 1, 2013 article in the student rag — that particular day called […]

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  • VIDEO: University of Alaska Fairbanks Newspaper Investigated for Nearly a Year for Protected Speech

    September 19, 2014

    Last December, I wrote here on The Torch about a University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) professor’s repeated sexual harassment complaints against independent student newspaper The Sun Star. Two articles prompted the complaints: one satirical April Fool’s Day article about a “a new building in the shape of a vagina” and one investigative piece on the “UAF Confessions” Facebook page. After FIRE wrote to the university in January explaining the danger to a free press created by UAF’s months-long investigation into the newspaper’s protected expression, the investigation finally concluded with the correct outcome. The whole ordeal—spanning from April 2013 to February […]

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  • A Year Later, Impact of Feds’ ‘Blueprint’ Comes into Focus

    August 28, 2014

    Last summer, FIRE sounded the alarm about a shockingly broad definition of sexual harassment being pushed by the Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) as a “blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country.” Announced at the conclusion of a year-long investigation into the University of Montana’s sexual assault policies and practices, the resolution agreement and findings letter the feds labeled a “blueprint” defined sexual harassment as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct” (i.e., speech). And this all-encompassing definition wasn’t just a general characterization of sexual harassment; rather, it was the exact policy language that ED and DOJ were requiring the University of Montana to adopt verbatim.

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  • Boring Campuses: Not Just the Fault of Helicopter Parents

    April 16, 2014

    In a new article, Slate’s Rebecca Schuman laments the phenomenon of colleges and universities becoming toned-down, less playful, even boring. Schuman argues that this is in part due to parents over-planning their kids’ lives, leaving them incapable of finding creative ways to have fun when they’re older and on their own: A recent trip back to my beloved alma mater, Vassar—combined with my interactions with students where I teach and some disappointing sleuthing—has made it apparent that much of the unstructured free play at college seems to have disappeared in favor of pre-professional anxiety, coupled with the nihilistic, homogeneous partying […]

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  • Revisions Promised After Oberlin Faculty Object to ‘Trigger Warning’ Policy

    April 11, 2014

    Last month, ‘The New Republic’ published an article by Jenny Jarvie on the growing trend of “trigger warnings,” disclaimers to audiences that the material they are about to view or read might “trigger” the remembrance of past traumas like sexual assault or other violence. The warnings have proliferated on websites—particularly Tumblr posts, blogs, and message boards—in recent years, but now they’re being adopted in other contexts, like syllabi for college courses.

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  • Vindicating Freedom of the Press from Alaska to Wisconsin

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  • Victory: Free Press Vindicated at University of Alaska Fairbanks

    February 11, 2014

    In a victory for freedom of the press, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has cleared The Sun Star student newspaper of any wrongdoing following a prolonged investigation of the newspaper’s content prompted by repeated and meritless complaints from a UAF professor. UAF officials announced the end of the investigation in a letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which intervened after the situation had dragged on for more than eight months.

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  • At U. of Alaska Fairbanks, Months-Long Investigations of Student Newspaper Chill Speech

    December 12, 2013

    University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) independent student newspaper The Sun Star is being subjected to an investigation—again—after a faculty member who complained about the paper’s content appealed two separate findings clearing the newspaper of sexual harassment charges based on its content. Although the university has not formally disciplined the newspaper staff, the months-long and burdensome investigations of clearly protected speech are wearing down the newspaper’s editors and are likely to significantly chill future student speech. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner described the two articles that led to the complaints: The first was a satirical article in the newspaper’s April Fools’ “Fun Star” issue and written about […]

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