Know Before You Go: Back to School 2007

By September 13, 2007

As summer fades to fall, students across the country are again returning to America’s colleges and universities for another academic year. FIRE’s press release today highlights the new services FIRE provides to students, including the Campus Freedom Network, a web “widget” that provides up-to-date information about campus speech codes at all of FIRE’s Spotlight schools, and FIRE’s Red Alert list. The press release describes these new resources thusly:

  • FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network (CFN), a coalition of students and faculty across the country united in the fight for freedom on campuses. This year, the CFN will debut a redesigned website with more interactivity for members and plans for the first-ever CFN conference. Interested students and faculty members should inquire at cfn@thefire.org.
  • FIRE’s Speech Codes Widget, which can show FIRE’s speech code rating for any of the nearly 350 campuses rated by FIRE. FIRE rates campus speech codes on a “red light, yellow light, green light” scale. Sadly, only a handful of colleges are “green light” institutions, which means FIRE has found no policies that substantially limit free speech on those campuses, while nearly 69% of schools maintain “red light” policies, which means that they have at least one policy that highly restricts speech. All it takes to add the widget to any blog or website is to copy a few lines of code provided on every school’s speech code page at thefire.org/spotlight—just like adding a YouTube video. The widget will help students, alumni, parents, and the community spread the word about—and thereby help defeat—campus speech codes.
  • FIRE’s newly implemented Red Alert list, which warns prospective students and parents about the “worst of the worst” offenders of liberty on campus.

FIRE adds these services to the same essential resources it has provided in the past including FIRE’s Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource, the most comprehensive database on speech codes threatening students’ freedoms; FIRE’s blog, The Torch, with up-to-date discussions and analysis on issues affecting the state of liberty on campus; and FIRE’s Guides to Student Rights on Campus, a series of five handbooks to students’ basic freedoms on campus. Last year, FIRE released its first annual speech code report documenting the fact that the majority of American colleges and universities retain regulations that explicitly prohibit speech protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution just outside the campus borders. Later this fall FIRE will release this year’s installment, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2007: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses.

FIRE issues a warning to students: know before you go. Many colleges and universities blatantly disregard their students’ rights not only by establishing overbroad and unconstitutional speech codes but by deliberate administrative action. Many students will be forced to attend orientation sessions where university administrators will completely disregard any notion of the sanctity of individuality and private conscience. Students should be prepared by ordering a free copy of FIRE’s Guide to First-Year Orientation and Thought Reform on Campus.

Two universities received the dubious distinction of placement on FIRE’s new Red Alert list for such unrepentant and explicit violations of students’ rights: Johns Hopkins University and Tufts University. Students at these institutions should be especially careful. The press release describes the schools’ abuses:

Johns Hopkins University ended last year on a repressive note by finding eighteen-year-old junior Justin Park guilty of “harassment” for posting an “offensive” Halloween party invitation on Facebook.com. Hopkins President William Brody made matters worse shortly after Park’s suspension by introducing a new and chillingly broad “civility” code prohibiting “rude, disrespectful behavior” on campus. This civility code will be sure to haunt life at Hopkins this year, as students will likely either self-censor or face sanctions merely for expressing supposedly “offensive” or unpopular ideas.

Hopkins’ abuse of students’ rights was rivaled only by Tufts University, which found the conservative newspaper The Primary Source (TPS) guilty of harassment for publishing two satirical and controversial articles. TPS’s satirical Christmas carol, along with a mock advertisement entitled “Islam—Arabic Translation: Submission,” caused a stir on campus for ridiculing race-based admissions and Tufts’ “Islamic Awareness Week,” respectively. Students filed complaints against the paper for both articles, and the university’s Committee on Student Life determined that TPS was guilty of “harassment.” Even after Tufts attempted to rectify the situation and claim its students enjoyed full First Amendment rights, it unconscionably allowed the harassment finding to stand.

Students, welcome back to school. If and when university administrators attempt to stifle your basic freedoms, FIRE is here, ready and willing, to help.