FIRE’s Letter to the Editor of ‘The Roanoke Times’

By May 18, 2009

Last week, I discussed the inaccuracies and distortions contained in an editorial published by The Roanoke Times attacking FIRE. Specifically, the paper dismissed FIRE’s concerns about the constitutionality of Virginia Tech’s proposed guidelines for evaluating candidates for promotion and tenure, labeling FIRE a "conservative group that oppose[s] campus diversity efforts across the country."

In addition to discussing the significant problems with the editorial here on The Torch, I also penned a letter to the Times‘ editors, correcting their misapprehensions. Unfortunately, the paper has failed to publish our letter, thus denying us the opportunity to set the record straight. We are therefore concerned that some readers of The Roanoke Times will be misinformed about our efforts at Virginia Tech and the kind of work FIRE does more generally. In the hopes of reaching them and others, here’s my letter to the Times in full:

To the Editor:

Today’s editorial ("Foster diversity at Virginia Tech," 5-13-09) mischaracterizes both the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and our objections to Virginia Tech’s proposed guidelines for faculty assessment.

First, as even a cursory review of our record will demonstrate, labeling FIRE a "conservative group" is wholly inaccurate. In truth, we are proudly non-partisan, and our cases reflect our commitment to protecting the rights of students and faculty regardless of ideology. In FIRE’s ten-year history, we have defended the rights of everyone from liberal students, student groups, and student newspapers to conservative students, student groups, and student newspapers; from evangelical Christians to those who mock Christianity; from devout Muslim students to those who are highly critical of Islam; and from Ward Churchill and Bill Ayers to those who protest Ward Churchill and Bill Ayers. True respect for the foundational principles of liberty and self-determination undergirding the First Amendment requires no less.

Your assertion that FIRE "oppose[s] campus diversity efforts across the country" is equally inaccurate. FIRE takes no position on "diversity efforts" per se. We objected to Virginia Tech’s proposed guidelines because they conditioned hiring and promotion on a candidate’s demonstrated allegiance to a university-approved, ideologically-loaded concept. This is a violation of a faculty member’s right to private conscience, guaranteed by the First Amendment. Accordingly, FIRE would have opposed a proposal to require teachers to demonstrate a commitment to other vague and politicized ideologiesfor example, "patriotism" or "Christianity"with equal vigor.

Sincerely,

Will Creeley
Director of Legal and Public Advocacy
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
250 West 57th Street, Suite 1830
New York, NY 10107
Phone: (212) 582-3191
Fax: (212) 582-3195 www.thefire.org

Schools: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Cases: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: “Diversity” Requirement for Faculty Assessment Violates Academic Freedom and Freedom of Conscience