This Week in the News: FIRE Responds to OCR Letter

By on May 6, 2011

Torch readers are well aware of FIRE’s firm stance against the April 4, 2011, letter from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali of the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to all colleges and universities receiving federal funding. The letter demands that schools lower the standard of proof to a "preponderance of evidence" standard when adjudicating student disciplinary matters concerning sexual harassment or sexual violence.

Just yesterday, FIRE sent out an open letter to OCR and issued a press release about how lowering the standard of proof would be a huge blow to students’ due process rights. Our opposition to the OCR letter was noted by Tom Knighton of United Liberty, Caroline May of The Daily Caller (with quotes from Will and Greg), Karin Kapsidelis of The News & Advance (Lynchburg, Va.) and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Elsewhere, our opposition to the Campus Sexual Violence Act (commonly known as the SaVE Act), which would codify the lower standard of proof in federal legislation, was reported by Bryan Ens of Student Free Press.

In national news, once word of Osama Bin Laden’s death hit the airwaves, college students all over the nation celebrated on their respective campuses. Adam wrote a blog post (linked to on USA TODAY’s college edition) about these celebrations, exposing the unconstitutionality and absurdity of "free speech zone" policies barring spontaneous protests on campus by pointing out that demonstrators at many institutions were forced to violate said policies in order to celebrate Bin Laden’s death. (To FIRE’s knowledge, nobody was penalized for these demonstrations.)

Charles Mitchell of the Commonwealth Foundation cited a section of Adam’s post to condemn Pennsylvania State University’s ban on spontaneous demonstrations. (He also cited the successful speech code lawsuit that FIRE coordinated against Pennsylvania’s Shippensburg University a few years ago.) Similarly, our own Robert Shibley spoke out against North Idaho University’s ban on spontaneous demonstrations in an article by Nicholas Deshais and Daniel Walters for The Pacific Northwest Inlander (Spokane, WA).

Two weeks ago, FIRE reported a free speech victory after Montclair State University in New Jersey backed down from charging an unconstitutional security fee for a speech sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society featuring education theorist and former Weatherman Bill Ayers. This week, Doug MacEachern of The Arizona Republic (Phoenix) commended FIRE for its principled, non-partisan defense of Ayers’ right to free speech.

Locally, University of Pennsylvania (Penn) student July Xie, writing for Penn’s student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, quoted FIRE Co-founder Harvey Silverglate in an article about Penn’s transition to a green-light institution, the circumstances behind FIRE’s founding, and the occasional perceived tension between free speech and civility.

In other news, Dr. Roy M. Poses cited FIRE’s website as a great database to discover all the ways in which college administrators restrict protected speech in his blog, Health Care Renewal, while Ed Brayton over at Science Blogs mentioned FIRE’s role in fighting unconstitutional speech codes on college campuses.

Finally, Students For Liberty featured FIRE’s 2011 Campus Freedom Network Conference in both a blog post this week and on its list of summer opportunities for liberty-minded students. Students can still apply for our conference today at thecfn.org/conference.

Cases: U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights April 4, 2011, Guidance Letter Reduces Due Process Protections