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Nat Hentoff on Legislative Victories and the Future of Higher Education

By April 24, 2014

This week in his syndicated column “Sweet Land of Liberty,” Nat Hentoff—renowned journalist, author, free speech advocate, and member of of FIRE’s Board of Advisors—urges his readers to demand that their elected officials take a stand for freedom of speech and due process on college and university campuses. Citing recent legislative victories like the passage of North Carolina’s right to hire counsel bill and Virginia’s ban on unconstitutional “free speech zones,” Hentoff commends FIRE for leading the way. FIRE, he writes, is “a persistently effective national teaching force in enabling college students to know how to become self-governing Americans for the rest of their lives.”

As Hentoff notes, FIRE’s legislative and policy director Joe Cohn especially deserves praise for his work with lawmakers across the country:

To get a full sense of how Cohn operates, here he is on another James Madison-style expedition, this time to my home state of Massachusetts, as he writes legislator Sen. Michael Moore and Rep. Tom Sannicandro in support of a bill to provide “university students facing serious, non-academic disciplinary charges the right to be represented by an attorney.”

Here is what Joe Cohn starkly told those legislators about what is happening to students there charged with “theft, harassment, assault, drug and weapons possession, stalking and rape.” Until this bill is passed, Cohn said, students “will continue to be forced to represent themselves — alone — against experienced and professionally trained deans, administrators and university attorneys in proceedings that fail to guarantee core components of the rights of due process …”

Hentoff calls on all citizens to hold colleges and universities accountable for their speech codes and policies depriving students of a fair hearing. Even the future leaders of the country should recognize the importance of these issues:

And hey, you 2016 presidential candidates, what’s your position on providing college students with campus-wide free speech and also due process to defend themselves across this sweet land of liberty? Will voters and the media be asking them? How about you?

Students and their parents, meanwhile, can use FIRE’s resources like our Spotlight database and Guides to Student Rights on Campus to help prepare for the fight for these essential individual rights. As Hentoff reminded readers in his column last week, “FIRE represents no political party — just the American people.” So if you need help defending student and faculty rights on your campus, email us at fightback@thefire.org!

Be sure to check out Hentoff’s columns from this week and last week in full.