University of Massachusetts at Amherst: Suppression of ‘Racist’ Speech

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Massachusetts – Amherst

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst campaigned to persecute nine students who were seen in photographs containing a caricature of one of them as the “Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan. At a post-election party following the Student Government Association (SGA) elections, Patrick Higgins, a student defeated in a race for SGA President during which he was labeled a “racist,” was in attendance. Another student, in an effort to mock the charges of racism, drew a caricature of Higgins as a member of the Ku Klux Klan on a dry-erase board. A photo was taken of the caricature and later circulated around campus. After controversy erupted, UMass Amherst Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Gargano threatened a range of punishments, from community service to expulsion, charging nine students involved with “harassment conduct less than a physical attack.” Ultimately, despite FIRE’s letter to the university pointing out the violation of free expression, the students were forced to resign from their positions of leadership on the SGA.

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  • Freedom Watch: UMass Amherst parodies itself

    March 11, 2005

    The administrative Pooh-Bahs at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have demonstrated once again that they are too cynical, too cowardly, or a combination of both to recognize the difference between “hate speech” and parody. As we reported last fall (see “Send Out the Clowns,” News and Features, October 29, 2004), following a hotly contested student election in which one of the candidates had been unfairly branded a racist, a group of student leaders threw a party where they parodied the racism accusations. They took photographs of themselves posing in front of a cartoon depicting the candidate dressed in Ku […]

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  • Under the Radar: Political Correctness Never Died

    July 1, 2004

    By Cathy Young at Reason

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  • Under Pressure from FIRE, UMass Amherst Revises 2010’s Speech Code of the Year

    February 14, 2011

    Under pressure from FIRE, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has revised its policy governing rallies on campus—and not a moment too soon. FIRE supporters will remember that the policy had earned UMass Amherst intensely negative attention, both here on The Torch and in the national media. In January, FIRE named the policy the 2010 Speech Code of the Year. In the post announcing this dubious distinction, Sam explained just why UMass Amherst’s policy was a cut above—or below—all the rest: While all 12 Speech Codes of the Month in 2010 flagrantly violated students’ right to free expression, one-the University […]

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  • Send Out the Clowns

    October 28, 2004

    LIKE PATRONS of the Grand Hotel in the classic movie of the same name, administrators at the University of Massachusetts Amherst come and go, but nothing ever happens — at least as far as the school’s longstanding devotion to unconstitutional censorship is concerned. Always advanced in the name of some alleged higher principle, UMass’s history of censorship is actually rooted in a mundane bureaucratic need for order. And that makes it all the more screwball.   Many may remember the opposition UMass expressed when notorious gay-basher Paul Cameron was asked to give a speech on campus two decades ago. But […]

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  • Double standard on free speech?

    October 25, 2004

    LAST APRIL, the student paper at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, The Daily Collegian, ran a column by graduate student Rene Gonzalez attacking Pat Tillman, the football player who had volunteered for the US Army and was killed in Afghanistan. Gonzalez called Tillman an “idiot” who was “acting out his macho, patriotic crap” and got what he deserved. An outcry ensued, on and off campus. The Collegian printed a statement defending Gonzalez’s free speech rights while distancing itself from his views; university president Jack M. Wilson publicly deplored the column but affirmed the writer’s right to free speech. In my commentary […]

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  • Satirical UMass Students Victims of ‘Double Standards,’ Says FIRE

    October 21, 2004

    (AgapePress) – A civil liberties group says at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, it’s more acceptable to mock American soldiers than it is to make fun of racism allegations. That’s why the group is accusing the school of “repression and double standards.” UMass has charged nine students with harassment and threatened to expel them for their involvement in a party where a caricature of one of them as the “grand wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan was drawn. The picture was intended to mock allegations of racism leveled at a candidate for student body president who questioned the constitutionality of […]

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  • UMass failing constitutional test

    October 16, 2004

    For years, debates have raged about the state of higher education. To critics, campuses have been captured by oppressive political correctness – an ideology that permits only one point of view about the critical issues of the day. Defenders of the contemporary university establishment argue that the problem is exaggerated or that the criticism is itself repressive, designed to silence the “progressive” voice.Occasionally, however, a university administration acts with such breathtaking audacity, such brazen double standards, that the debate – at least for that campus – is settled. Civil liberties, democratic ideals and the rule of law take a back […]

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  • Repression and Double Standards at UMass Amherst

    October 15, 2004

    AMHERST, Mass., October 14, 2004—Less than one year after the University of Massachusetts Amherst defended the free speech rights of a columnist who celebrated the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, the university has campaigned to persecute nine students who were seen in photographs containing a caricature of one of them as the “Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan. The drawing, which was intended to mock both the Klan itself and spurious accusations of “racism” made during the course of a student government election campaign, depicted the so-called Grand Wizard with his eyes crossed and his tongue hanging out […]

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  • FIRE Letter to UMass Amherst Chancellor John V. Lombardi, October 7, 2004

    October 7, 2004

    October 7, 2004   Chancellor John V. Lombardi University of Massachusetts 181 Presidents Drive Amherst, Massachusetts 01003   URGENT Sent by U.S. Mail and Facsimile (413-545-2328)   Dear Chancellor Lombardi:   As you can see from our directors and board of advisors, FIRE unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, academic freedom, due process, legal equality, voluntary association, and freedom of speech on America.s college campuses. Our web page,, will give you a greater sense of our identity and of our activities.   We […]

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