Rights in the News: Free Speech Ups and Downs at Wisconsin and Chicago

By on May 8, 2009

It’s been an up-and-down week for student rights in the Midwest. Things may be looking up in the 175,000-student University of Wisconsin System, where after months of pressure by FIRE the UW system Board of Regents unveiled a newly drafted set of guidelines restoring many of the essential due process rights that FIRE and the students of UW feared would be compromised. Erica Perez writes about FIRE’s efforts at UW in the pages of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Associated Press has helped give the issue the exposure it needs as well.

The latest from UW, however, is that the Regents have delayed the final vote due to a conflict over whether students should be entitled to legal representation in the more serious cases (i.e. exactly the cases where a lawyer would be of most assistance to the student). Rest assured that FIRE is keeping its eye on UW.

150 miles down the road from the UW offices in Madison, FIRE has been engaging the University of Chicago over its censorship of a student’s Facebook page and the administration’s refusal to engage FIRE on this blatant violation of student rights and its own stated commitments to free expression. The chilling of speech at Chicago hasn’t escaped the attention of The Minnesota Daily, a student newspaper at the University of Minnesota, in an article that focuses heavily on another of FIRE’s hallmark Facebook censorship casesthat of Hayden Barnes at Valdosta State University. The Chi Town Daily News has covered the case at Chicago as well. (While we’re on the subject of Facebook censorship, The Wesleyan Argus is the latest to pick up on FIRE’s commentary on the NCAA’s recent attempts to shut down student Facebook pages it says violate recruiting rules.)

But perhaps there’s a ray of hope at Chicago: this week Chicago alumnus and CFN member (as well as former FIRE intern) Christian Brockman writes in a letter to the student newspaper The Chicago Maroonin which he also calls out the university’s illiberal speech codesthat today the university is hosting a discussion on free speech today featuring First Amendment expert Geoffrey Stone. They could use one.

Elsewhere, Mark Bauerlein reflects on FIRE’s short film on the University of Delaware (now over 50,000 views on YouTube) in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Erin O’Connor and University World News touch on FIRE’s defense of Professor Jonathan Goldstein at Bowdoin College. Lastly FIRE is pleased to announce the publication of Justice Robert H. Jackson Legal Fellow Azhar Majeed’s law review article in the Journal of College and University Law, the latest of our fellows’ important contributions to First Amendment scholarship.