This Week in the News: FIRE’s Opposition to OCR Letter Makes Waves and Wesleyan Partially Reforms Campus Housing Policy

By on May 13, 2011

Last week, FIRE sent an open letter to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and issued a press release about how OCR’s recently issued guidance to colleges and universities, which mandates that they lower the standard of proof to a "preponderance of the evidence" standard when adjudicating student disciplinary matters concerning sexual harassment or sexual violence, represents a huge blow to students’ due process rights. Roger Pilon of the Cato Insitute was only the latest to praise FIRE for our opposition to this development at Cato @ Liberty.

Wesleyan University recently reformed a policy that would have punished students for "participating in social activities" on the property of any "private societies" not under Wesleyan’s control. However, Wesleyan’s new Campus Housing Policy isn’t much better, punishing students for using houses or property of unrecognized Greek organizations as residences, or taking meals and participating in social activities at such houses or property. FIRE wrote a press release about this development on Monday and Will’s views on the restrictive policy were reported by Charlotte Allen of Minding the Campus.

Torch readers will remember the plight of Sinclair Community College (SCC) student Ethel Borel-Donohue, who was banned from distributing literature about abortion, birth control, and breast cancer to her classmates after class. This week, Arnold Ahlert of FrontPage Magazine wrote about FIRE’s defense of Borel-Donohue’s right to distribute literature and the pressure we’re placing on SCC to revise its unconstitutional bans on distribution (see Section IV.3). Greg and Adam are quoted in the article criticizing SCC for its abuse of Borel-Donohue’s First Amendment rights.

Jaclyn wrote a blog post yesterday about the successful implementation of Free Speech Walls at several universities. Students at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) faced many bureaucratic obstacles in order to host the event, including a requirement that their wall withstand up to "hurricane force winds." An article by Andrew Kaluza on Students For Liberty’s blog details how the UTSA students fought for their display, even citing FIRE’s Guide to Free Speech on Campus to protest the university’s plan to impose a multi-thousand dollar insurance fee on the group in order to set up the display.

Deborah D. Thornton of the Iowa City Press-Citizen shed light (reprinted in The Modern Whig Party) on the rigid speech restrictions imposed on students at Iowa’s three Regent-governed schools: the University of Iowa (UI), Iowa State University (ISU), and the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). Adam is quoted in the article, discussing the importance of fighting disfavored speech with more speech of one’s own, rather than through government censorship and speech codes.

Staying in the corn belt, Adam’s speech, "Making Your Entire Campus a Free Speech Zone," delivered on April 7 as part of First Amendment Day at Iowa State University (ISU), was mentioned in an article by The Blackhawk about the day’s activities.

In California, FIRE’s suggestions to the Committee of Academic Freedom and Professional Ethics (CAFPE) at Pasadena City College (PCC) for how to properly draft a policy on rallies and protests weren’t reflected in the policy passed at a Faculty Association (FA) meeting on April 27. Sara Medina of The PCC Courier (PCC’s student newspaper) described FIRE’s and other parties’ opposition to the new policy. Fortunately, due to FIRE’s criticisms, as well as structural and procedural complaints from actors within PCC about the policy and the manner in which it was passed, the policy is now up for review at an FA meeting on May 16. (Note: The article incorrectly claims that FIRE provided CAFPE with representation. FIRE does not provide legal representation or legal advice.)

In other news, Debbie Truong of The Daily Orange briefly recapped FIRE’s role in bringing the investigation of Syracuse University College of Law student Len Audaer, the alleged author of the satirical blog, SUCOLitis, to a just conclusion. Truong also mentioned FIRE’s inclusion of Syracuse in Greg’s Huffington Post article, "The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech." Meanwhile, in the latest issue of the American Association of University Professors’ Journal of Academic Freedom (PDF), Butler University Professor Bill Watts has noted FIRE’s support of a Butler student who was sued by Butler after he publicly criticized some members of Butler’s administration.

Finally, Logan Penza of The Moderate Voice, in an article detailing his opinion that the progressive left’s abandonment of its core principles regarding free speech has had dire consequences on college campuses, noted that FIRE is a good resource for people wishing to learn more about the suppression of free speech on campus.