TUSCALOOSA, Ala., February 28, 2005—In a remarkable display of intellectual independence and moral courage, the University of Alabama (UA) Student Senate last week passed a “free speech” resolution that directly opposes a “hate speech” resolution passed by UA’s Faculty Senate last fall. Recognizing that the faculty’s “hate speech” resolution was a thinly veiled call for a speech code, the students’ resolution urges the UA administration and faculty “to adopt policies that explicitly protect free speech for all students at the University of Alabama.” The students’ move comes after close consultation with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and follows an open letter FIRE sent to the UA community to protest the faculty’s proposed regulations.
“Last fall I expressed confidence that members of the UA community who realized the ramifications of the faculty’s policy would reject it,” remarked FIRE President David French. “In a bold act, the students have not only rejected the faculty’s proposal, but have also demanded that the university instead adopt policies that explicitly protect their rights to free speech.”
The Student Senate resolution, sent to UA President Robert Witt and Faculty Senate President John Mason, passed unanimously on February 24, 2005. Authored by Student Senator Pat Samples, the resolution states that “[f]ree speech is absolutely vital to the mission of any university, where new and often controversial ideas must be discussed openly and rationally in order to make advances in knowledge” and proclaims that “[b]y defending free speech for all students, one in no way condones any kind of hate or intolerance; [o]n the contrary, one is promoting tolerance of others despite their differences, especially their differences of opinion.” The student resolution also warned that adopting a speech code would be a legal liability for UA and would “greatly tarnish its public image.” The resolution’s call for free speech for all students directly opposes the Faculty Senate’s “hate speech” resolution passed last September.
UA’s Faculty Senate resolution, prompted by an incident between an outside comedian and a UA student at a university event in September 2004, recommended that UA officials “develop clear policies restricting any behavior which demeans or reduces an individual based on group affiliation or personal characteristics, or which promotes hate or discrimination, in any approved University program or activity, and that these policies be incorporated into any contract entered into by the University regarding participation in formal University programs.” In November, FIRE protested the Faculty Senate resolution with an open letter urging hundreds of faculty members, administrators, and student leaders to reject policies that could lead to arbitrary censorship of unpopular opinions.
“This is another resounding example of students’ leading the way in protecting basic American freedoms,” added French. “Let’s hope that university faculty members and administrators can learn from those they are supposed to be teaching.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at UA and on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Witt, President, University of Alabama: 205-348-5103; email@example.com
Pat Samples, Student Senator, University of Alabama: 205-344-5978; firstname.lastname@example.org