In early January we reported on the coverage that FIRE’s list of 2013’s worst colleges for free speech received from various local media outlets. Over the past few weeks, the press has continued to draw attention to the nefarious reputation that these schools have developed for violating students’ and professors’ free speech rights.
In North Carolina, which holds the dubious honor of being home to two schools on our 2013 list, both local and student-run newspapers have written about the free speech mistakes made by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Appalachian State University (ASU). Raleigh newspaper The News & Observer notes that ours is a “top-ten list that two North Carolina campuses won’t like.”
Reporting on the appearance of these two schools on our list, The Daily Tar Heel quotes UNC law professor and First Amendment scholar David Ardia, who praised our work: “FIRE is consistently in the forefront of shining a bright light on those universities in our society that are restrictive of speech.” Student newspaper The Appalachian published an article explaining how ASU earned a spot on this year’s list for its suspension and subsequent sanctioning of sociology professor Jammie Price for her classroom “offenses” of criticizing the university and showing a documentary about pornography. The Appalachianalso published a staff editorial expressing dismay at the harm that eroding academic freedom causes to students:
“This affects the quality of education at the university, because a big part of the process of learning is experiencing ideas that are often offensive and unsettling, but can nevertheless prove to be worthwhile and educational.”
University of Alabama (UA) student newspaper The Crimson White recounted how UA’s grounds use policy unconstitutionally prevented a student group from engaging in peaceful, spontaneous expressive activity on campus. UA official Cathy Andreen attempted to deflect the criticism by claiming that the policy constitutes “reasonable restrictions of time, place, and manner” and that it is necessary to ensure safety and orderly operation of the school. In doing so, she drew absurd and inapt parallels to “yell[ing] ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” and activities that disrupt class, completely ignoring the fact that UA’s policy restricts expressive activity that in no way puts the safety or orderly operation of campus at risk. As we explained in two letters to UA President Judy Bonner, these policies are nowhere near “reasonable,” and they surely violate students’ constitutional rights.
Finally, in Chicago, Kelly Conger of The DePaulia acknowledged DePaul University’s ignoble spot on the list, earned when the school labeled student Kristopher Del Campo a potentially dangerous threat to campus for posting a list of students who admitted to vandalizing a pro-life display set up by the DePaul chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. Speaking generally of the moral obligations of universities to uphold students’ right to free speech and inquiry, Conger correctly states that “[c]ollege is advertised as this place of all-encompassing education, a place where you can learn as much as you want about anything you want, and you should be able to say what you want, even at a Catholic school.”
We are pleased to see students and journalists continue to recognize the paramount importance of the right to free speech on campus—and the harm caused to an institution when it earns a reputation for violating this right.
Image: “Young Woman Reading a Newspaper” – Shutterstock