Grover Furr Ignores Facts, Again

By September 9, 2005

In the comments section below my and Azhar Majeed’s Inside Higher Ed article, the infamous Grover Furr makes some outrageous accusations against my and FIRE’s writings.  He claims we do not “substantiate” our claims, that our articles are “dishonest” and that our articles “do not merit publication.”  Here is my response:

Professor Furr,

In claiming that my and Azhar Majeed’s article is “dishonest” and that we do not “substantiate” our claims, you make multiple unsubstantiated, dishonest, and willfully ignorant statements of your own.  FIRE documents all of its cases and provides access to that information through links to primary documents and articles; in fact, we do so more thoroughly than any group with which I am familiar.  If you had bothered to follow the links provided in the article (here, again, are the links to the William Paterson University materials, the Suffolk County Community College materials and the Washington State University materials) the falseness of your claims should have been obvious.

Most outrageously, you claim, “FIRE has a shameful history of falsely claiming suppression of free speech. A long FIRE article in the CHE of Aug. 1 ’03 about ‘Speech Codes’ similarly failed to give a single example of a ‘speech code.’”   This is either a gross oversight on your part or a lie.  In that article, Harvey Silverglate and I reference over half a dozen kinds of speech codes and directly quote a speech code from Shippensburg University (which was enjoined by a federal court in Pennsylvania) and the code from Citrus College (which the college abandoned just weeks after FIRE Legal Network attorney Carol Sobel filed suit). 

Perhaps your unstated argument is that you do not agree that the policies we cite are “speech codes,” because they are not labeled “SPEECH CODES” in the university policies.  We even addressed that anemic argument in the article.  We define a speech code in the most straightforward way imaginable: “as any campus regulation that punishes, forbids, heavily regulates, or restricts a substantial amount of protected speech.” We went on to write:

No one denies that a college can and should ban true harassment—but a code that calls itself a “racial-harassment code” does not thereby magically inoculate itself against free-speech and academic-freedom obligations.

Courts have overturned speech code after speech code, whether they are called “harassment” policies (see for example Doe v. University of Michigan, 721 F. Supp. 852 (E.D. Mich. 1989)), “fighting words” policies (see for example The UWM Post, Inc. v. Board of Regents of University of Wisconsin System, 774 F. Supp. 1163 (E. D. Wis. 1991)) or “free speech areas” (see Roberts v. Haragan, 346 F. Supp. 2d 853 (N.D. Tex. 2004)) when they intrude on clearly protected speech.

The Citrus College “free speech area” policy, which we cite in the article, required that students “[G]et permission in advance, alert campus security of the intended message, and provide any printed materials that they wished to distribute, in addition to a host of other restrictions.”

Further, this free speech area was open only from “8 a.m. through 6 p.m, Monday through Friday.”

If that was not a speech code, nothing would be a speech code.

In that article, Harvey and I also referenced an on-line database of speech codes FIRE was assembling at the time.  That database has existed for years now and catalogues hundreds of speech codes across the country.

You could have easily found it if you bothered to look—and you would have looked for it if you had read our article carefully or honestly.

In that database, we directly pull university policies and often link to them in their entirety.

Finally, you insult the Chronicle of Higher Education by claiming that we had no evidence to back up our article.

The Chronicle carefully and thoroughly scrutinized every claim we made and they were satisfied with everything in that article.

You can ask our editor, Sarah Hardesty-Bray, for proof of that if you like.

Further, you baselessly assert, “Calling someone ‘cunt’ in an email sent to that person is certainly ‘harassment.’ Does FIRE consider this email appropriate?”  If you had bothered to follow the link we provided (again, which was in the text of the article!) you would know that your claim that this is “certainly” harassment is refuted by numerous sources including the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education.  You also might have noticed that Suffolk County Community College itself eventually concluded the student’s one-time e-mail with a bad word accidentally sent to a professor did not constitute harassment.

As for whether or not we see we see that word as “appropriate,” you entirely miss the point.  Free speech is (thank goodness) not limited just to what FIRE, Grover Furr, or I deem “appropriate.”

The Supreme Court recognized years ago in Papish v. Board of Curators of University of Missouri, 410 U.S. 667 (1973) that speech, “no matter how offensive to good taste — on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of ‘conventions of decency.’”

You also seem to place great importance on whether or not William Paterson University used the word “guilty” in finding Jihad Daniel guilty of “discrimination” for his one time e-mail in response to unsolicited e-mail from a professor in which he called homosexuality a “perversion.”  I have been to many a conference of student administrators where they are advised to stop using the word “guilty” when they find someone guilty of violating campus policy; for a variety of reasons, they now sometimes use the word “responsible” or simply say that someone had “violated” their policy.  If you had bothered to read the university’s own finding or the rejection of Daniel’s appeal by the WPU president or the letter from the New Jersey Attorney General you would have seen constant references to Daniel being “in violation” of state and campus policy; these documents also talk about appeals, letters of reprimands, and the disciplinary committee.  Jihad Daniel was found guilty of violating state and university policy—it’s clear, undeniable, and the fact they don’t like using the word “guilty” is a laughably irrelevant point.  You also question if Daniel was punished—a letter of reprimand was placed in his file and he was found to have violated state law.  If you don’t believe that being formally labeled a “harasser” or “discriminator” under state law is punishment, I challenge would you to try to get a job at a college these days with such labels in your permanent file.

With regard to Washington State University, you also make some inchoate point that “[e]ven FIRE” cannot claim that campus security’s refusal to defend the play from the mob was “the policy of the university.”  If you had bothered to read any of the documents in the link on WSU, you would have seen that the administration facilitated and encouraged the protests and afterwards took no action against campus security and defended the rights of the protestors even though they had made threats of physical violence at the event.  From reading your articles, I don’t think that you would argue that police abuses (say, police brutality) can be forgiven if the state can show the abuse was not “official policy.”  Police and campus security abuses are bad enough; standing by those abuses is unforgivable, and facilitating bands of censors shouting physical threats is criminal.<

You also argue, with regard to all of the cases, that “No evidence in the story substantiates FIRE’s language about ‘mortal terror.’”  Again, did you read the article?  We had written:

So in one case a 63-year-old student, and in two others two middle aged women (the taller of the two is 5’4”), are portrayed as placing other adults in mortal terror, while a mob of 40 angry students disrupting a play and shouting death threats is called a “responsible” exercise of free speech!?

As we wrote:

“According to the Supreme Court, intimidation is ‘a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.’”

Being in fear of death or bodily harm (“mortal terror”) is part of the definition of intimidation.

Our point was obvious: at William Paterson, Suffolk, and Alaska, no one can reasonably claim to have been placed in fear of bodily harm or death, whereas at Washington State the threats were textbook examples of unprotected speech (as we wrote: “Unlike those in the cases above, these threats were crystal clear. According to Lee, and a tape of the performance, these threats included, ‘I kill you,’ ‘You better watch out,’ ‘Get off of there or I’ll mop your f*cking head,’ ‘We will get you outside,’ and, ‘We will kill you.’”).

You also baselessly insinuate that we might be hiding the ball on the Alaska case.  We would happily provide anyone interested in that case with our correspondence.  We did not provide a link to that information because we never officially took that case public and therefore have no files on the website.

As always, we can substantiate every single word we wrote.

I don’t really know why you would make such obviously false allegations against two articles arguing for free speech on campus.

I have looked at your own articles.  You seem determined that Stalin, the mass-murdering overachiever of the 20th century is somehow underappreciated and that the United States most likely ordered the assassination of Pope John Paul II back in 1981 because he was too liberal, as well as numerous other claims many would consider outrageous, offensive, and absurd.  You, like FIRE, should be arguing for a conception of free speech and academic freedom that is as strong as possible, as you benefit from a strong conception of academic freedom and free speech every day.

To be clear, everyone at FIRE believes in your right to speak your mind.

I noticed that some of your more controversial opinions have gotten the notice of the media, including Front Page Magazine.

The author of that piece has just as much right to criticize you as you have to criticize him.

However, if you find that you are being officially punished for your opinions, don’t hesitate to contact FIRE.

Schools: Washington State University William Paterson University University of Alaska Fairbanks