University of Rhode Island: Student Senate Attempts to Compel Speech

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Rhode Island

At the University of Rhode Island, the College Republicans came under fire for advertising a “scholarship” during “Conservative Coming Out Week,” in order to satirically protest scholarships awarded on the bases of race, gender, or nationality. Even though the College Republicans never awarded the “scholarship” to anyone, the Student Organizations Advisory and Review Committee (SOARC) decided that just advertising the award violated URI’s anti-discrimination bylaws. The committee directed the College Republicans to either publicly apologize or face derecognition, which would deny the club the ability to reserve meeting space or apply for funding. Despite a letter from FIRE informing the Senate of the constitutional ban on compelled speech and a directive from URI President Robert Carothers to drop the mandatory apology, SOARC stood by its decision and voted to derecognize the College Republicans. After much media scrutiny, the Senate voted to drop the mandatory apology, and allow the College Republicans the recognition they deserve.

  • Satiric scholarship creates First Amendment firestorm

    April 27, 2007

    For scores of college students across the nation, the next few weeks of spring will constitute a countdown to summer recess. Between preparing for finals and cleaning out dorm rooms, one would think that the nation’s collegiate youth would be limited in the amount of free time on their hands. One would be wrong. As a number of college students prepare to sit down and take a written examination on the history and meaning of the First Amendment, students at the University of Rhode Island (URI) are learning firsthand about censorship and government disregard for civil liberties. On Wednesday, under […]

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  • Campus Watch: They dared to joke

    April 24, 2007

    The College Republicans at the University of Rhode Island are facing official extinction for refusing to apologize for a satire. The CRs had advertised a fictitious $100 “scholarship” for white, heterosexual, American males—an intentionally unsubtle jab at URI’s many scholarships offered on the basis of race and gender. The URI Student Senate demanded a public apology—supposedly to the students who were “injured” by spending their time applying for the mock “scholarship.” It’s plain, of course, that the student government wanted to slap the CRs down for their politically incorrect joke. As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education noted in […]

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  • College GOP group derecognized for anti-PC stunt

    April 20, 2007

    The student senate at a Rhode Island college has drawn fire for disbanding the school’s Republican group after the group refused to apologize for a satirical stunt designed to highlight political correctness on American campuses. The College Republicans at the University of Rhode Island (URI) established a satirical scholarship to ridicule the notion of scholarships based on race, gender or nationality. It offered a $100 grant to a student who was white, heterosexual, American and male. In the application, applicants were asked, “In 100 words or less, what does being a white heterosexual American male mean to you? As a […]

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  • University of Rhode Island student groups duel over free speech

    April 20, 2007

    Among other rights, the First Amendment protects satire and parody as a form of free speech. But the Student Senate at the University of Rhode Island appears to have lost its sense of humor when it comes to the campus group College Republicans. Earlier this week, a Student Senate committee recommended revoking the College Republicans’ recognition as a school-sanctioned group because the group refused to apologize for a satirical advertisement that offered a $100 scholarship to a white, heterosexual, American male. The advertisement ran last November in the student newspaper, the Good 5 Cent Cigar. Forty students applied for the […]

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  • Republican student group’s decision to sponsor satirical, whites-only scholarship starts row

    April 18, 2007

    A decision by a student Republican group at the University of Rhode Island to sponsor a satirical scholarship for white, heterosexual men has started a row on campus. The group’s move poked fun at the fact that many scholarships at American universities are targeted at groups that are perceived to be at a disadvantage, including racial minorities and women. But student leaders reacted angrily: threatening to cut off money and other perks from the College Republicans for allegedly violating an anti-discrimination clause in the student Senate’s rules, according to university officials. A committee of the student Senate also has asked […]

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  • GOP group protests apology demands over whites-only scholarship

    April 18, 2007

    College Republicans at the University of Rhode Island are fighting a demand that they apologize for sponsoring a satirical scholarship for white, heterosexual men. A committee of the school’s student Senate has threatened to cut off money and other perks from the College Republicans for allegedly violating an anti-discrimination clause in the Senate’s rules, according to URI officials. The Senate committee also has asked to review the College Republicans’ activities. An apology from the group would end most of the disciplinary actions. The young Republicans argue their “scholarship” advertised last year wasn’t misleading or discriminatory because they never seriously considered […]

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  • Carothers: Senate can’t ‘impose sanctions’ on College Republicans

    April 18, 2007

    In an unprecedented move, University of Rhode Island President Robert L. Carothers directed the Student Senate to end its demand for a public apology from the College Republicans. Five weeks ago, the senate made its decision on the White Heterosexual American Male scholarship controversy, voting unanimously for a written apology from the student group to be published in the Cigar. The punishment also required the College Republicans to have its events and activities approved by the Student Organization Advisory and Review Committee for one year. The club responded, saying it would continue to battle what they called “forced speech.” On […]

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  • This Month in FIRE History: Student Senate Attempts to Compel Speech

    April 30, 2010

    In April of 2007 at the University of Rhode Island (URI), the future of the College Republicans was in jeopardy. The group had advertised a “scholarship” that satirically protested scholarships awarded on the basis of race, gender, or nationality. The advertisements for the “WHAM Scholarship,” short for White Heterosexual American Males, were posted as a joke during “Conservative Coming Out Week” and were never actually awarded. The Student Senate decided that the political commentary violated URI’s anti-discrimination bylaws, and the College Republicans were told to either publicly apologize or face derecognition. When the Student Senate refused to take back this […]

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  • Under FIRE: Campus speech regulations once again

    April 30, 2007

    This article is available by subscription only from The New York Times Select.

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  • Victory for Freedom of Expression at the University of Rhode Island

    April 26, 2007

    PROVIDENCE, R.I., April 26, 2007—In a meeting last night, the Student Senate of the University of Rhode Island (URI) voted against a proposal to derecognize the College Republicans, holding that the group need not apologize for advertising a satirical white, heterosexual, American male “scholarship.” This decision overturns last week’s Student Senate committee vote to revoke the College Republicans’ official recognition after they refused to apologize for advertising the “scholarship.” Heeding pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), national media, URI’s administration, and a concerned public, the Student Senate finally acknowledged its constitutional obligations with last night’s vote. […]

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  • University of Rhode Island Student Senate Dumps College Republicans

    April 18, 2007

    PROVIDENCE, R.I., April 18, 2007—Displaying a dramatic disregard for students’ constitutional rights, a committee of the University of Rhode Island (URI) Student Senate voted on Monday to derecognize the College Republicans student group. For months, the Student Senate has demanded that the group publicly apologize for advertising a satirical $100 “scholarship” for white, heterosexual, American males. The College Republicans refused to apologize and contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. FIRE is now calling upon URI President Robert Carothers, who has already informed the Senate that it could not compel student speech, to reverse the decision […]

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  • University of Rhode Island President Forbids Student Senate from Imposing Unconstitutional Sanctions

    April 12, 2007

    University of Rhode Island (URI) President Robert Carothers has intervened to stop the Student Senate from imposing unconstitutional sanctions on the URI College Republicans, who sponsored a satirical $100 “scholarship” for white, heterosexual, American males. The Senate prohibited the group from disbursing the money, but the Senate later demanded that the College Republicans apologize publicly in the student newspaper for even advertising the scholarship. FIRE wrote to the Student Senate to explain that the First Amendment prohibits any organization that derives its authority from a public university from compelling students to make statements against their will. When the Student Senate […]

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