Rights in the News: Controversy at Southern Illinois Ignites FIRE’s 2009 Efforts

By on January 16, 2009

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) Chancellor Samuel Goldman and his administration have been a veritable one-stop shop for newsworthy content lately, as followers of The Torch this week are no doubt aware. In one of three articles penned by Adam Testa for the Southern Illinoisan, Goldman referred to FIRE as "embarrassing" SIUC into defending itself, as though its free speech crisis did not already exist, meanwhile having actually made FIRE’s requested change to SIUC’s protest policy. This prompted FIRE’s press release on SIUC’s doublespeak, to which Testa reported that the university will not respond. Goldman now asks for patiencebut every day with unconstitutional policies is another day of SIUC violating rights, not only leaving itself open to liability but diminishing its reputation as a free marketplace of ideas. To top it off, Goldmanin the midst of a radio interview addressing various SIUC issuesagain attacked FIRE. Stay tuned for more on SIUC.

The brouhaha over SIUC’s speech codes was fodder as well for SIUC’s student paper, the Daily Eqyptian, whichas Sam noted previouslyalso drew attention to what Goldman said were "baseless" claims even as his administration quietly changed its published protest policy at FIRE’s urging, and even though SIUC’s unconstitutional policies are documented for the world to see in Spotlight, our speech code database.

SIUC’s other distinction for the weekshared with more than 260 other colleges and universitiesis to have received official notice from FIRE alerting them to the rejection of Temple University’s former speech code by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of DeJohn v. Temple University. Our letter explained the peril to colleges and universities that uphold questionable or unconstitutional speech codes. The letters, which were sent via certified U.S. Mail to all public universities outside the Third Circuit’s jurisdiction that receive a red or yellow light in Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource, also point out the infeasibility of a qualified immunity defense for administrators, which means they might successfully be sued as individuals if they keep unconstitutional policies on the books.

Peter Schmidt gracefully and thoroughly lays out this effort in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education this week (subscription required). Even if you don’t have a Chronicle subscription, be sure that this is far from the last FIRE will be saying about our campaign to restore the rights of free expression at America’s colleges.

Elsewhere in the college press, FIRE’s efforts against a now-withdrawn proposed free speech zone policy at Northeastern Illinois University were highlighted in an article in Eastern Illinois University’s student newspaper, The Eastern. In addition, The State News of Michigan State University has the latest on student government leader Kara Spencer’s pending appeal of the university’s "spamming" charges and FIRE’s efforts to clear her name in this preposterous case. Torch readers are well aware of this case, in which the MSU administration found Spencer guilty of "spamming" on the basis of an e-mail she sent to faculty members concerning a relevant campus matterearning MSU a pass straight to FIRE’s Red Alert list.

Other former and current FIRE cases have gotten attention in the new year as well. Our case at Lone Star CollegeTomball, in which the campus chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas was prevented from distributing a satirical "Top Ten Gun Safety Tips" flyer, was recently featured in Reason Online’s "Daily Brickbats" section. And in the few weeks since its release, Andrew Marcus’ short documentary feature on the travesty that was Keith John Sampson’s treatment by officials at Indiana UniversityPurdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), which investigated the student-employee for racial harassment solely for reading a book, was featured in WorldNetDaily shortly following its release, and the video has been picked up by numerous pundits and featured on numerous blogs, including Instapundit and just recently at the popular law blog Overlawyered. Marcus’ ten-minute film casts a stark light on the injustices suffered by Sampson. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t done so already.

Schools: Lone Star College-Tomball Michigan State University Southern Illinois University at Carbondale Northeastern Illinois University Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis