Professor Ross Takes NEIU to Task on Censorship

By April 6, 2005

Yesterday, after receiving our press release about the attempt to stifle free speech at Northeastern Illinois University, a principled and eloquent advocate of free speech on campus, Professor David S. Ross, wrote to the president and administration of NEIU to get their side of the story. He copied a number of people, including the attorney who has been handling the case on NEIU’s behalf. This morning the attorney responded:

Dear Professor Ross:

If you feel compelled to do a mass e-mailing relating to FIRE, I would appreciate your courtesy in leaving my legal assistant off of you [sic] distribution list. That person does not need to be the target of the FIRE barrage since she has nothing to do with the situation.

Thanks for your anticipated courtesy.

Mark Dunn

Here is his fabulous response:

Dear Mr. Dunn:

Thanks for the note. I’ll be glad to leave your legal assistant off my mailing list in the future. Your law firm’s web site gives the address Admin@DunnLaw.com as the “Contact Us” address, so, wanting to contact you, I used that address. From now on, I’ll write to you directly.

I should make it clear, since your e-mail suggests some confusion on this point, that my writing to my colleagues around the country is something that I do on my own, it has nothing to do with FIRE, in the sense that they do not ask me to do it, and I have no idea whether they want me to do it. I do it because I agree with their principle that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” They shine the light; I try to open an extra window or two.

I read your letters to FIRE. I hadn’t planned to write you about them, but since you’ve written me, and since I find myself replying anyway, I’d like to ask you about the ideas you presented in those letters, particularly in the second one.

Remember, the issue here is that as a public institution, NEIU is bound by the first amendment not to restrict speech. The claim that FIRE and the NEIU College Republicans have made is that NEIU has violated the free speech rights of students by prohibiting the Affirmative Action Bake Sale.

The first two paragraphs of your letter of March 29th tell an inspiring story of struggling inner city students working hard for years to obtain their degrees from NEIU, they tell of NEIU’s fora for the exchange of ideas, and they tell the sad story of the paucity of funding at NEIU. This last story ends with an odd, vague, hint that NEIU does not have enough money to pay lawyers.

What in the world does any of this have to do with the issue at hand, the free speech issue?

In the third paragraph, you reiterate what you said in your first letter, that Greg Lukianoff got the facts wrong. But you don’t say what facts you think he got wrong! You make the queer statement that “there is no ‘case’“ (perhaps you mean that there’s no legal case yet?). And you conclude with the bizarrely banal observation that “others may disagree about what facts are properly considered ‘material.’”

So, I have two questions. First, what do you think Greg Lukianoff got wrong? And, regarding the paragraph’s last two sentences, I can only ask the very general question: Huh?

In the fourth paragraph, you say that NEIU has proposed alternate methods for the College Republicans to communicate their message. Again, what in the world does this have to do with the matter at hand?

The oddest of all the odd things in this letter is in the fourth paragraph. You suggest, in the second sentence, that NEIU will allow the College Republicans to hold their bake sale, but somehow the Dean’s spring break vacation has messed up the plans. Is this what you meant to say? If so, it seems that the matter is done, no? When the Dean returns, tanned and relaxed, the Bake Sale goes on—is that right? If not—then what were you trying to say?

I must say, I found your letter to be most interesting to read—I strongly recommend that everyone on my distribution list take a look at it. I look forward to your clarifications.

Thanks for writing,

David S. Ross

David S. Ross
Research Professor
Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Rochester Institute of Technology

FIRE is eternally grateful to people like David and we rely on them to be effective. Meanwhile, I have gotten quite used to a college’s responding “you have gotten things wrong but we can’t really expand on what exactly.” I am eagerly awaiting Dunn’s reply.

Schools: Northeastern Illinois University