National Attention at NIU Helps SSDP, While Justice Still Eludes Alleged Syracuse Blogger

By December 10, 2010

FIRE’s efforts at Northern Illinois University paid off this week, with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) finally being recognized as a "Social Justice, Advocacy, and Support" group. Even better, the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at NIU is establishing a task force to review the Student Association bylaws this academic year. We at FIRE hope that this task force will devise policies that ensure justice for all NIU student organizations.  

Torch readers by now are very familiar with the plight of SSDP at NIU. After the organization was denied recognition as a "social advocacy" group on Sunday for the second time this autumn–making SSDP still ineligible for funding under the Student Association Senate’s blatantly unconstitutional bylaws–the media picked up the case and has overwhelmingly supported SSDP.

Change.org was especially vocal in its condemnation of the Senate’s unconstitutional policies and actions, as well as the NIU’s administration’s failure to ameliorate the situation. On Tuesday, Charles Davis excoriated the Senate for misrepresenting SSDP’s mission and for partially basing its most recent rejection on SSDP’s "blatant disrespect" of the Senate. (Jacob Sullum made a similar argument this week in a blog post for Reason.) Davis then interviewed SSDP president Jeremy Orbach for his column the following day, in which he detailed the chronology of the case and called upon the NIU administration to intervene and allow students to discuss a prominent national issue. Change.org also wrote a column and petition urging NIU President John G. Peters to stop the Senate’s unconstitutional actions and recognize SSDP as a social advocacy group.

Davis, in yet another column on Thursday, praised Brian Troutman, one of the nine Senators who adhered to the Constitution and voted to recognize SSDP as a "social advocacy" group. Troutman attests that the problem is not the Senators themselves, but the unconstitutional bylaws (which he wisely did not follow).

Change.org was not the only publication or website to condemn NIU’s treatment of SSDP. Peter Guither of DrugWarRant.com criticized the Senate for restricting honest debate on campus and urged them to remove the arbitrary distinction between political and social advocacy groups. The staff of The 420 Times worried about the precedent that the Senate’s decision could set for free speech in general, and speech about marijuana in particular. Additionally, Jeff Winkler of The Daily Caller interviewed Adam and Greg for his column about the case. Finally, Adam’s blog post on how the Senate’s decision to deny recognition to SSDP violated all five rights in the First Amendment was re-posted on the Student Free Press Association’s website.

It’s been around a month since we published anything on The Torch about Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL) student Len Audaer, but his predicament has not improved. Torch readers will remember that SUCOL has been investigating Audaer since October for "harassment" due to the contents on the satirical blog SUCOLitis (which have not yet been definitively attributed to him). The Daily Orange has continued to stay on the case, and it looks like SUCOL still refuses to drop or conclude its unacceptable investigation. FIRE is closely monitoring this unfortunate situation.

In other free speech news around the country, Joss van Seventer wrote a column for The Michigan Review about the University of Michigan’s descent from "a hub of freedom of thought and expression" to receiving a red-light rating from FIRE. In an article for the High Plains Reader, Campus Freedom Network member Nathan Hansen criticizes the unconstitutional policies that have earned North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota red-light ratings, and explains the national implications of these schools’ failure to protect free speech. Ryan Strong, in a follow-up to last week’s article in The Occidental Weekly, details the lawsuit that student Jason Antebi filed against Occidental College, stemming from a memorable FIRE case several years ago, and highlights the need for a discussion about balancing First Amendment rights and sexual harassment protections.

Finally, Greg debates U.S. Representative Rush Holt, the co-sponsor of the recently proposed "Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act," in an article for the Congressional Quarterly Researcher this week. It’s good reading, so be sure to check it out.