Rutgers Newspaper Reports on FIRE’s ‘Cyber-Bullying’ Letter to NJ Attorney General

By December 5, 2008

On November 10, the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) sent a letterco-signed by FIRE and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)to New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram regarding her memo encouraging New Jersey’s colleges and universities to address so-called "cyber-bullying." FIRE joined the SPLC and SPJ in expressing concern over the opportunities for abuse of "cyber-bullying" codes by campus administrators in the absence of clear legal standards defined within the bounds of the First Amendment.

As Adam wrote for The Torch, "[t]he key problem with Milgram’s campaign against ‘cyber-bullying’ is that directives against ‘bullying’ issued by colleges or universities are likely to be stated so vaguely and with such overbreadth that they will chill or prohibit wide swaths of constitutionally protected speech."

A recent article by Jason Stives in The Daily Targum, Rutgers University’s student newspaper, has taken notice of the joint letter to Milgram and the issues it raises. Stives notes that the SPLC is monitoring the situation throughout New Jersey and is prepared to intervene if the Attorney General’s campaign results in unconstitutional speech code restrictions in New Jersey’s state colleges and universities. FIRE, of course, is prepared to do so as well.

Encouragingly, students and faculty at Rutgers seem to be aware of the issues at stake. Stives quotes Steve Miller, a professor in Rutgers’ School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, who asks of such a limitation on free speech rights: "If we limit speech or press in one form, does that set the stage to limit them everywhere?" Mike Wemer, a sophomore in Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts, is right on the money in saying that "[i]mpeding on our first amendment rights on a college campus, even for the best intentions, undermines what academic institutions were designed to stand for… Besides, we are all adults here at Rutgers and we should be mature enough that we don’t need guidelines to tell us how to behave."

Given the passions aroused by JuicyCampus.comostensibly the main target of Milgram’s campaignit’s encouraging to hear such a sensible take on the issue from students and faculty on the flagship campus of New Jersey’s state university system.