FIRE Chairman Awards “Muzzles” to New England Universities

By on July 9, 2009

In this week’s edition of the Boston Phoenix, FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate slaps New England-area universities with an "accolade" no administrator wants to receive: Muzzle Awards. These dubious distinctions are reserved for schools that have violated free speech and/or individual liberties in the past year. (Sounds familiar, right?)

It’s become a 12-year tradition for the Phoenix to give out the Muzzle Awards to speech-squelching politicians and cover-it-up cops. Since last year, however, a specific division has been designated for violations on college and university grounds. That’s because, as we’ve said before and will say again, college administrators are expert censors. Of course, institutions of higher education have traditionally been centers of intellectual pursuit, where ideas are supposed to compete without one (or more) sides subject to censorship. But, as regular Torch readers can attest, that simply (and sadly) isn’t the reality. As Harvey writes:

In a 1957 Supreme Court decision upholding the free-speech rights of university professors (Sweezy v. New Hampshire), Justice Felix Frankfurter quoted prominent South African scholars on the importance of academic freedom. At the time, these professors were resisting their government’s proposal to segregate students based on race: "It is the business of a university to provide that atmosphere which is most conducive to speculation, experiment, and creation."

Too bad contemporary American college administrators and faculty don’t demonstrate as much support for free-speech rights in academia as did Apartheid-era Afrikaner professors. Perhaps a different definition of the "business of a university" is now the norm. As our New England-campus Muzzle muckraking shows, "speculation, experiment, and creation" couldn’t possibly be the goal for administrators at these colleges and universities.

From stopping speakers to trashing newspapers, these New England universities truly earned their Muzzles. At Boston University, employees in the admissions office hid copies of the student-edited newspaper because they feared coverage of the so-called "Craigslist Killer" (a BU Med student) would scare off would-be Terriers. At MIT, campus police recycled 400 copies of the Tech (another student-run newspaper) when a fellow police officer was caught dealing pain-killers and his story garnered headlines. The saga at Quinnipiac University, involving a dispute over editorial control over yet another student-run newspaper, is no stranger to the Torch. Finally, Boston College, after initially allowing a controversial lecturer on campus, decided to cancel the event when word spread on talk radio.

Read the entirety of the "Muzzle Awards: Collegiate Division" on the Phoenix website.